By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
NURSES yesterday upped the ante in their resistance to an impending “slavery” shift change by staging staggered lunch break walkouts, which slowed service at Princess Margaret Hospital and public health facilities throughout the country.
This action and whatever else nurses feel is necessary could continue for the rest of the week, Bahamas Nurses Union officials said.
In the face of these threats, the Public Hospitals Authority said it was not backing down over the new shift system, saying it had a legally enforceable document signed in December 2014 by the BNU’s former president agreeing to the changes.
Adding steps were taken yesterday to ensure minimal disruption in healthcare services in light of the nurses’ actions, PHA took issue with the claim the union was not given enough notice of the new shift system’s implementation.
In a statement released last evening, PHA said more than a dozen overtures were made this year to bring BNU back to the table for talks about the issue.
Yesterday BNU President Amancha Williams said about 500 nurses across country were expected to protest by taking their entitled one-hour lunch break, when they would normally only take a 15-minute tea break.
Ms Williams, along with scores of nurses and representatives from several other unions, held a press conference and demonstration outside Princess Margaret Hospital yesterday morning. It marked the first lunchtime walk out of the day. She maintained there will be no compliance with the new shift system come December 10.
Moments before, hospital security prohibited the nurses and news reporters from congregating at the main entrance of the Critical Care Block. Ultimately the nurses assembled at the stairs of the building just a few feet from Shirley Street. It is something Ms Williams said was “discriminatory” as doctors has just been allowed to assemble there weeks ago to voice their concerns.
While PHA has said it is not backing down over the new shifts, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands confirmed that through the union’s attorney, an invitation had been extended to meet with PHA officials at the negotiation table. He said the meeting could happen as early as today if the BNU agreed.
Dr Sands told The Tribune there had been no disruption of services at public healthcare facilities, but admitted the service was somewhat slow.
Asked if PHA was doing anything to circumvent would could be a week of the same actions, Dr Sands noted the nurses did not have a strike certificate and could only act within the confines of the law.
Concerning their push back to the proposed shift change, Ms Williams claimed there was no mutual agreement for the move between the union and the PHA.
She said the industrial agreement says where nurses enjoy a better condition than those contained in the document, that shall continue whether the conditions result in contract or due to a practise that exists prior.
“If such conditions are known to the authority, it shall continue to enforce until such time as the authority and the union mutually agree to the change in condition,” Ms Williams said. “Here the hospital authority and the nurses’ union did not mutual agree. We do not share the same emotions of the shift change.”
Nurses she said do not want the shift change because it is a “slavery shift,” adding it would make them prone to errors and cause more accidents and injuries in the work place.
The proposed change will also not allow the nurse to have a social life and mothers would need childcare services more than before, nurses believe.
“What does it do to the nurse? Your performance, the quality of service that you will render (will be affected),” Ms Williams said.
BNU Secretary General Julian Mullings said there is nothing in the standing industrial agreement that mandates a shift system be implemented.
However PHA disputed these claims, citing an agreement signed with BNU on December 9, 2014, agreeing to the new workweek hours.
“The authority strongly objects to assertions by the president of the BNU that the union was not given prior notice regarding the implementation of the standardized shift system,” PHA said. “Notwithstanding the 2014 agreement, several attempts were made to bring the BNU back to the table. . .
“The authority maintains its position to implement the new standardised shift system for all nurses in its employ, effective December 10. We reiterate that this decision complies with the Bahamas Employment Act of 2001, the 2015 Industrial Agreement between the Public Hospitals Authority and the Bahamas Nurses Union, as well as the December 9, 2014 agreement between the parties.
“The authority stands by our decision to implement the new shift system as it not only levels the playing field for nurses across the PHA, but is a testament to the PHA’s ongoing commitment to ensure that its human resources policies are consistent with ratified labour agreements and regional and international standards of practice. The authority remains committed to improving the delivery of healthcare to patients by ensuring better patient outcomes.”
However, the Ministry of Health released a statement warning there could be interruption of services at public health facilities and all clinics today. The ministry said limited services will be available and people may experience delays. "Consequently, we encourage those who are not critically ill not to present themselves at our facilities on these days," the statement said.