PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell. (File photo)
By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell has urged Health Minister Dr Duane Sands to urgently settle any "outstanding issues" nurses may have, asserting that patient care is on the "chopping block" as a result.
Mr Mitchell's admonition comes amid threats from the Bahamas Nurses Union that nurses will not be showing up for their new shifts next month to oppose a shift change proposed by the Public Hospitals Authority.
Mr Mitchell, in a brief statement, urged Dr Sands to settle "without delay" any lingering issues the union may have, claiming the "chaos and disputes should not be allowed to continue" and risk compromising healthcare.
The PLP senator also said the responses and interventions by the health minister to date seem "heartless and uncaring".
"We (the PLP) support the nurses in their struggle for justice and will continue to monitor events," the press statement said.
Last month, the PHA announced that the four days on/four days off shift will change to a five days on/ two days off shift in over a month. However, the two sides dispute what impact the change will have on the well-being of nurses.
The BNU insists it will leave them overworked, while the PHA says it will reduce chances for accidents and errors. The PHA also thinks nurses should be less overworked since more of them will be on duty during a single shift.
Both sides are also at odds over the legality of the shift change. PHA managing director Catherine Weech has asserted the change is consistent with the Bahamas Employment Act, the 2015 industrial agreement between the PHA and the BNU, and an agreement the parties reached in 2014.
However, BNU president Amancha Williams insists that 2014 agreement, signed by the BNU's former leader, is void because it was not adopted in the 2015 industrial agreement. That industrial agreement mandates that both parties agree to any changes, failing which the terms must remain the same until 2022 when the current agreement expires.
Under the new shift, nurses working between 6pm and 6am will receive a $1.75 per hour premium in addition to their standard hourly pay. However, Ms Williams has criticised such a rate as being both inadequate and outdated. She has also said that nurses in the United States and Canada receive premiums of $5 or more.
Ms Williams has also predicted that changing the shift will encourage economic migration for nurses.
Dr Sands, meanwhile, has previously said he will not interfere with negotiations as 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.