WHEN junior doctors walked out on strike in August, initially there was sympathy for the medics, but that sympathy ran out very quickly.
First of all, the public soured on demands that included such items as a duty-free car every three years, no property tax and splitting the profits from a car park to be built at public expense. Then, when the matter was referred to an industrial tribunal, medics dragged their heels to return to work – earning no favour from the public and, as it now turns out, from the courts either.
Justice Ian Winder in the Supreme Court yesterday found that the Bahamas Doctors Union had taken unlawful strike action. He said the union broke the Industrial Relations Act when it continued to strike despite being required to discontinue once it was referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
After losing public sympathy, the union now has cost itself the chance to take part in further industrial action going forward. To say the union got its strategy all wrong for achieving its goals might be understating matters.
Worse, it might have a knock-on effect for other unions going about things in the right way.
As Trade Union Congress president Obie Ferguson pointed out, if the government can refer the doctors to the Industrial Tribunal to bring a strike action to an end, what’s to stop it from doing so with other unions too?
The irony of it all is that the union had a strong case to begin with – trying to resolve matters that had been lingering on for years, and to sort out payment of a debt of $10m to workers.
If they had simply stopped their action when required – and it is fair to say that the absence of the medics was having a toll at hospitals and clinics forced to curtail services – they would have been able to take up their case at the tribunal from a strong position.
Instead, they go having lost widespread support and having possibly harmed other unions trying to seek relief for their own members.
The role of a union leader can be very difficult. You don’t want to let your members down, nor do you want to harm your employer too much because that in turn only hurts the workers too. Cost a business too much in profits, it might come back to bite if layoffs have to be made. Cause problems within the public service, and it’s the public themselves who find they are shut out of locked offices or unable to access facilities.
It’s a balancing act – and in this case one that tipped too far and left the medics themselves looking like the villains.
Strikes should always be a last resort. The doctors’ union had reached that last resort, but how they conducted it has let them down.
Sometimes, union leaders need to ask whether just because they’re entitled to go on strike, whether it really is the best way to get a solution.
After all, that’s what everyone wants – a deal. Just because you can strike doesn’t mean you should if it doesn’t get that outcome. And if you can’t strike? Well, the doctors are about to find that out thanks to the intransigence of their union. We hope the tribunal brings a good outcome for all – and we also hope the government won’t take this ruling as a guideline for clamping down on other unions with fair grievances.
Unions are one of the voices of the people – history tends to judge poorly governments that don’t let such voices be heard.
Medical school more than just a plaster on Grand Bahama's wounds
Another day, another deal for Grand Bahama.
This time, it’s a $64.2m medical school in Freeport that will bring 150 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs by the time it’s completed in 2029.
That may seem a long way off, but the first phase is expected to be up and running by this time next year, with 50-75 Bahamians hired.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis hailed the project as a “significant investment in Grand Bahama” and it comes on the heels of the heads of agreement signings for a $100m cruise port in East Grand Bahama with Carnival Cruise Line, and another deal worth $80m for a pier at Half Moon Cay.
Wherever possible, the new Western Atlantic University medical school will recruit Bahamians, including to the faculty, and a ratio of 80 percent Bahamians to non-Bahamians has been promised both at the construction stage and in staff positions.
It is hoped that up to 1,000 students will enrol, bringing a combined $200m in revenue to Grand Bahama.
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, this is tremendous news for the island – but more than that it is an opportunity in the long-term for many Bahamians. With shortages of doctors in many countries, this could be a real chance for a generation of Bahamians to establish a bright future.
Looking across at Cuba, great stock has been made of the investment in medical education there – perhaps Freeport is showing the way for The Bahamas to establish a similar reputation.
When the debris of Dorian has been cleared away, that offers the prospect of a very bright future indeed.