Health Minister Dr Duane Sands.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE Bahamas Doctors Union has blamed Health Minister Dr Duane Sands for the inconvenience and frustration experienced by citizens who have been affected by industrial action since last week.
And as BDU slammed the leak of a list of demands sent to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis last week, it insisted these were non-monetary alternatives for government to pay doctors outstanding holiday pay.
The union said it viewed the options as “innovative” and a possible means for negotiating with other unions who are owed money.
However BDU noted that while the government has acknowledged that junior doctors are owed for working on public holidays, it has been unable to sign an agreement with the minister “because he insists that he is entitled to make deductions from those funds.”
And despite Dr Sands’ assertion that government has agreed for about $4m in outstanding holiday pay to be doled out in two instalments this year, BDU said no agreement has been made moving forward.
“In our efforts toward conciliation, the BDU has conceded six years of holiday pay – the holiday period in question extends back to 2010, (utilising the PHA calculations) this accounts for monies owed in excess of $10m,” BDU said in a statement yesterday.
“BDU realised the financial burden this posed on the public purse and made numerous concessions: during negotiations this money payout was reduced to less than half; BDU waived all interest to the monies owed; BDU gave the government options for non-monetary alternatives for payment which included construction of a parking garage, improved insurance or one-time tax waivers.
“We viewed these non-monetary concessions as innovative and certainly a possible means for negotiating with other unions who are owed monies. The release of BDU’s options for non-monetary compensation by PHA and Department of Public Health without providing the context is a lack of good faith.”
The Tribune obtained a copy of the union’s demands and published them on Monday.
The BDU statement continued: “The government has acknowledged that the junior doctors are owed for working on public holidays for the past 10 years and made provisions for the funds to be paid. However, the BDU has not been able to sign an agreement with the Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands because he insists that he is entitled to make deductions from those funds. The BDU has been advised by our legal advisor, that it would be foolish to agree to such a deduction as this would be contrary to what is constitutionally allowed. In addition, current government provisions will not bring what is owed current, and no agreement has been made as to how holiday pay will be addressed in the future.
“The BDU has expressed to Dr Sands on numerous occasions that the members of the BDU are ready to get back to work but can only do so when there is a legal binding and fair document to sign, there is a time line to resolve the other outstanding issues, and all of the monies agreed to by the prime minister is paid to the junior doctors. The inconvenience and frustration that the public is experiencing at this unfortunate time lies squarely at the feet of the minister of health.”
The union maintained yesterday that it is continuing to exercise its legal right to utilise industrial action against PHA and the DPH, adding that it has take a decade of failed negotiations to reach to this point.
BDU said it knew the full impact of industrial action on the public, but sought to demonstrate restraint and held off for eight months while attempting to conclude this matter amicably.
The statement was released about one hour before Labour Minister Dion Foulkes announced that the dispute was referred to the Industrial Tribunal, noting union’s strike action has “threatened the public interest”.
According to Section 76 of the Industrial Relations Act, once this happens it is the “duty of any person participating in the strike or lock-out to discontinue the same forthwith” until the panel makes a ruling.