Princess Margaret Hospital. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By TANEKA THOMPSON
Tribune News Editor
JUNIOR doctors have asked for real property tax exemptions, Crown land for the construction of an office, duty-free exemptions on car imports or the construction of a paid parking lot at Princess Margaret Hospital with the proceeds to be split between the government and the Bahamas Doctors Union.
The demands are set out in a document sent by BDU to the government last week, which itemises issues the union wants discussed when it meets with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Public Hospitals Authority officials and labour representatives today. This comes as junior doctors continue their strike and public healthcare services remain limited to emergency treatment only.
Among seven items on BDU’s agenda for discussion, the union said a timeline and agreement on one of the following demands must be signed off on.
The BDU document states: “Identify one non-monetary compensation option as proposed in our communique to on March 7, 2019: Increase the current health insurance benefits of junior doctors to that on par with that of police officers, immigration officers. Construct a paid parking facility on the hospital grounds for public use.
“The profits are to be shared equally between the government of The Bahamas and the BDU, after construction costs are met. The profits from the venture will be paid out equally to all BDU members in perpetuity.”
“As in practice in Jamaica, give doctors duty-free exemptions on one vehicle every three years. Grant exemption from real property tax. Crown land for the construction of the BDU office.”
Other issues the doctors have asked to be addressed at today’s meeting includes the abolition of one and two-year employment contracts; the reinstatement of intern housing allowance and on-premises hospital housing and the removal of the stipulation that doctors ‘swipe in’ prior to receiving holiday pay. Of this latter request, the union has asked that the existing reimbursement method be used, which is the holiday claim form.
The union is also asking to be the sole bargaining agent for public dentists; that the parity in salaries between Department of Public Health physicians and Public Hospitals’ Authority physicians be rectified and that doctors who have not received a pay package or allowances during BDU’s last industrial agreement be regularised and receive back pay.
In the document, BDU also said it accepts the proposed pay out of approximately $5 million covering the period of June 2014 to October 2018, which is to be paid to junior doctors in two instalments. The first instalment at the end of August and the second in December.
“A third payment is to be made for the year 2018 at a date to be determined,” BDU noted.
When contacted yesterday about the standoff with the government and BDU, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said the nation’s leader has been “most flexible and receptive to the concerns of the physicians.”
Dr Sands said: “He has met with them, he has given them assurances that the substantive issue that has lent to this action will be positively resolved in their favour in a timeframe even more rapid than they had hoped for previously so.
“This is not an issue where there is an arbitrary position that is held. We can do what it is possible to do, every decision, every intervention has consequences whether those consequences are seen or unseen predictable or otherwise we have to try to make decisions so we don’t get down the road and say collectively as a country well why didn’t you say this could have happened. We didn’t know that this was going to be a potential outcome.”
More than 400 junior doctors across the country went on strike Wednesday, frustrated by longstanding disputes.
As the strike stretches on, it is unclear if the government will give in to the union’s demands, reach a compromise or refer the matter to the Industrial Tribunal, which could put an end to the strike without an agreement being reached.
Section 72 of the Industrial Relations Act outlines the procedure for a minister to refer a labour dispute to the tribunal when dealing with an essential service. The law states that when a settlement has not been reached within 16 days, then the minister may refer the dispute to the tribunal if in his opinion the public interest so requires.
“The provision of any hospital service,” falls under essential services.