By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis will conduct “head to head” talks with union leaders next week in the face of escalating labour issues, according to Labour Minister Dion Foulkes.
In an announcement made in the Senate yesterday, Mr Foulkes indicated that plans are in place for Dr Minnis to hold talks with the presidents of all unions operating in the country, next Monday at 10am.
Mr Foulkes said the meeting comes as a follow-up to talks held during this year’s Labour Day festivities.
Nonetheless, the move could be viewed as an attempt by the government to stem the tide against a burgeoning labour crisis.
As of Tuesday, 115 senior doctors withdrew their services following failed negotiations between the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CSPA) and the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA).
The health services body has activated its emergency operations centre and declared that all out-patient specialty clinics and elective surgeries are cancelled until further notice.
Additionally, the Bahamas Nurses Union is planning a second strike vote after an initial vote, which was successful in agreeing to a strike action, was declared null on the grounds that several Family Island nurses were not able to cast ballots.
The Bahamas Teachers Union this week also announced it was seeking a strike vote.
Addressing some of these matters yesterday, Mr Foulkes encouraged the CPSA to return to work and to return to normal duties, citing an agreement with Trade Union Congress (TUC) President Obie Ferguson, the CSPA’s affiliate union, to attend next week’s talks.
Mr Foulkes said he has already spoken with both the presidents of TUC and Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union (BCPOU), Bernard Evans, and said the pair have accepted invitations for the talks.
Expounding on the health services crisis, Mr Foulkes added: “I am very sensitive to the concerns and to the demands of the nurses’ union and both unions that represents the doctors.
“My wife is a nurse by profession. Though she no longer practices, I am acutely familiar with the challenges nurses face. I also have two daughters who are doctors, one at the Rand in Freeport and one here at PMH in Nassau. I am very much aware of the challenges that doctors face,” he said.
“As minister of labour, I must be fair and I must be a mediator in these talks. I am represented by very capable officers and Mr John Pinder who has been doing an excellent job in conciliating these disputes. I am very hopeful that we are able to resolve all of their issues.”
As for that failed strike vote by nurses in June, Mr Foulkes said the Industrial Relations Act is clear in mandating that all members of the bargaining unit must have an opportunity to vote.
“…. Whether they vote or not is not the issue. They must have an opportunity to do it,” he said.
“We have looked over the new application by the nurses’ union and we are satisfied that this process is correctly done. We will have all of the Family Islands properly manned. Where we have labour officers they will supervise the strike vote. Where we do not have labour officers the administrators will supervise the strike vote next Tuesday,” Mr Foulkes added.
“We are hopeful that all of the nurses’ concerns will be addressed.
“With respect to the doctors’ union, the junior doctors, they too are in negotiations with the PHA and we are also hopeful that we can resolve their issues,” he said.
He also said there was a recent strike vote in Inagua for the union which represents all of the workers at Morton Salt. He said of the 70 in total that voted, 68 voted in favour of a strike and two voted against.
“There is a meeting scheduled for next week between the Morton executives and the union. We are very hopeful we are able to bring some resolution to the matter.”
“I am very confident that both sides will come up with an agreement that is acceptable to both sides. Both sides may not get everything but the main thing is to find some middle ground that is acceptable.”
He also said: “We have also been in talks with the BCPOU and the management of BTC. From my understanding, there was some question of moving some of the services provided here by Bahamians to another jurisdiction and to offer those Bahamians in that department others jobs in BTC. I understand that that is the primary concern. Both the union and management at BTC are talking.
“With respect to the hotel union, the major concern of the union is the overall contract agreement which has expired but specifically there is a proposal by Atlantis to commence a new shift system on December 3 which the union has an issue with.”
With respect to the teachers’ union, Mr Foulkes said: “We had an application to have a strike vote at C H Reeves secondary school. I have not declined but I have not approved the sticker vote, for one reason. We are getting legal advice on whether a part of a bargaining can conduct a strike vote as opposed to the entire bargaining unit. The application was for one school only. We understand what the issues are at C H Reeves and we are hopeful that if they haven’t been resolved they will be resolved soon.”
Lastly, addressing the ongoing issues at the Grand Lucayan resort in Bahama, Mr Foulkes said: “The two unions at Our Lucaya are in talks with the Our Lucaya board headed by attorney Michael Scott to come to an understanding as it relates to the voluntary separation packages.”
He added: “Significant progress has been made with respect to the management union and to the line staff union. We are hopeful that both unions and the new board at Our Lucaya would be able to come to a settlement so that those persons who want to leave the hotel, manager who want to leave can leave and leave with their severance packages.”
He said the government is seeking to have resolution in that ordeal before Christmas, to allow those persons who are leaving to do so with cheques in hand.