By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Nurses Union President Amancha Williams yesterday suggested nurses will not be showing up for their new shifts next month as she maintained there was no legal grounds to penalise non compliance.
The union is calling for government intervention as tensions with the Public Hospitals Authority persist over the proposed shift change, with the authority suggesting the union was not negotiating in good faith in its latest statement.
“They can't penalise nobody if no nurses show up on December 13,” Mrs Williams said.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have (a strike certificate) in hand. I don’t have to work, you can’t cut my pay, you didn’t give me that shift, that wasn’t agreed upon. It was unilaterally done (by PHA) and it should not be done that way.
“Our argument stays the same,” Mrs Williams said, “labour (officials) should be involved at this point.”
The PHA claims the BNU has yet to formally respond to the proposed roster schedule sent in May, and in a statement issued yesterday, underscored repeated postponements of meetings by the union and a failure to provide written feedback on the issue of contention.
The authority gave an account of a meeting with the union on Tuesday, which it stated was held in an attempt to further discussions on the impending standardised shift system.
“During the October 30 meeting with the BNU,” the statement read, “the PHA confirmed its intent to maintain the implementation date of December 10, 2018 for the new standardised shift system for nurses, and once again invited the BNU to provide documented feedback related to the proposed roster system identified for each PHA institution.
“The BNU confirmed that it was not in a position to do so,” it continued.
PHA said it has asked the union to present its arguments against the new shift system in writing by today and a follow up meeting is set for Tuesday.
Yesterday, Mrs Williams accused the authority of misrepresenting the issue.
“They (PHA) did not rebut at all,” Mrs Williams said, “the lawyers just asked for us to start and do things the right way. They realised what Obie (Ferguson) saying is documented and legal, cases were seen before. They know there is no standing and court will rule in favour of BNU. They realise that,” she said.
“The PHA Act which is registered, the law, 17.3, states if you are enjoying a good benefit, no one can take away the good benefit that you are enjoying. In their law, in their act, they cannot go against that, and the nurses say that’s good for me.”
Moreover, Mrs Williams said she was told by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis in August the matter would be put on hold until he had returned from his vacation.
She told The Tribune it was shameful that both Dr Minnis and Labour Minister Dion Foulkes remain silent over negotiations, which she claims are being conducted in contravention of labour laws, and the PHA Act.
Mrs Williams also hit out at Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, whom she said has not presented any cogent opinion on the matter.
Dr Sands has previously said he will not interfere with negotiations so long as they are being conducted in good faith, and suggested the outspoken nature of health professionals in recent months was indicative of a democratic political environment.
“If I am the Bahamian public I wouldn’t take nothing what Dr Sands say,” Mrs Williams said, “he’s talking a bunch of stupidness. His arguments are terrible.
“[Dr Minnis] said to us when he comes back he will deal with the shift change,” she said, “from then shift change is on hold. The PM put a hold on the shift change, the country forgets. How is it that the PHA now takes it up? The PM has to come to the nation, and let us come to the table, let’s come together. A proposal is not two letters and that’s that.”
Mrs Williams said: “[Mr Foulkes] needs to step in. He has not said anything and that is a shame, I cry shame on them. [Mr Foulkes] should have written a letter formally that what is written is illegal, and what the PHA is doing they must do it the correct way. He has a legal team in labour and he must do it the right way.
“But he has not commented, not given a formal letter for the strike certificate.”
Nurses overwhelmingly supported a strike during a poll this summer but the government denied them a strike certificate, telling the press the poll failed to give every nurse an opportunity to vote.
The Tribune tried to contact both Mr Foulkes and Labour Director John Pinder but did not get a response up to press time.
The PHA announced last week that the four days on/four days off shift will change to a five days on/two days off shift in over a month. The two sides dispute what impact the change will have on the well-being of nurses; and also its legality given that a 2014 agreement on the shift change between the BNU and PHA was not adopted in its 2015 industrial agreement.