By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
DOZENS of members of Bahamas Public Service Union demonstrated outside Princess Margaret Hospital yesterday, citing unfair promotion practices, outstanding industrial agreements and other unresolved grievances.
BPSU president Kimsley Ferguson, who represents some workers at the hospital as well as airport staff, warned there could be major disruption in hospital and airport services if workers’ longstanding concerns are not immediately resolved.
“We’re here today because amidst the myriad of concerns that the Public Hospital Authority and the Airport Authority has, one of those issues is our outstanding industrial agreement which we’ve been trying to get signed forever,” Mr Ferguson told reporters at yesterday’s demonstration.
“We are here to suggest today to the government of The Bahamas and the PHA and to the Airport Authority, if it takes shutting down to get these things done then that is exactly what we intend to do because it appears as if there’s no reasoning.
“The Bahamas Public Service motto is reasoning together accomplishes and so in order to be able to reason, you have to be able to get an audience to address the outstanding concerns that we do have so hence we’re here today to send a message to the government of The Bahamas that they did something for BPL and they’re going to do it for these people and their services is just as significant and even more significant than that of BPL.”
The group is calling for hazard pay, salary increases and uniform allowances among other things.
Mr Ferguson said: “There’s hazard pay for these persons (PHA workers) who have to come into contact with COVID-19 patients. That’s been outstanding for a number of years. There (are) promotions. There are a number of issues. There are salary increases and uniform allowance, the persons at Airport Authority haven’t had uniforms in five years.
“And so, we have written the Airport Authority. We have written the PHA. The responses that we’re getting (are) not satisfactory. The response that we got from the Airport Authority is we were told that nothing was in the budget for you.
“Well, you have a staff of over 600... and you didn’t budget for uniforms. What do you expect the people to wear, blue jeans and t-shirts?”
Asked how PHA officials responded to workers’ concerns, the union president replied: “The response that we would’ve gotten from the PHA was that it was agreed in the agreement that we’ve been trying to get signed and so now the persons at PHA have to facilitate their own uniforms.”
Mr Ferguson also hit out at what he called unfair hiring practices at airports on the Family Islands.
He said: “We are concerned that there are officers in the Family Islands that were hired at an abnormal salary. The entry level salary was disregarded, and those persons are now struggling to survive with their families. We’ve been to the table trying to get that advised that a Cabinet paper has been forwarded to the permanent secretary with a view of getting that resolved.”
Mr Ferguson said enough is enough and union members are simply fed up. He also gave the government a short timeframe to resolve their concerns.
“We’re giving them today and let me tell you something,” he said yesterday. “I gone tell you the same thing BPL president said, let the chips fall where they may and that is it.”
Brendalee Seymour, who works in the housekeeping department at PMH, said staff morale is low.
“I was here now for 17 years and we haven’t got uniform now for I think about five years now. Every time you work in uniforms, the uniforms dropping all over your arm. I does have to take my money out of my pocket to go and get uniform just to look decent on the job,” she said.
“We have no insurance, no hazard pay, and all kind of things. We had staff die from the COVID. We had staff on the ward the other day. The ward have COVID. They ain’t telling us nothing and it is very bad and Minnis got to do something. Ms (Catherine) Weech got to do something,” she said.
Last night, the Public Hospitals Authority reacted to the BPSU protest, saying it is open to talks with the union on outstanding issues.
“The union threatened industrial action and service disruptions. The Authority remains open to engagement with the BPSU on outstanding issues but encourages parties to disputes with the organisation to refrain from making threats to hospital services and patient care in an already challenging environment,” PHA said.
Officials also said a proposed industrial agreement between it and BPSU was approved by PHA’s board of directors in May.
PHA said a draft Cabinet Paper relative to this was submitted to the Ministry of Health for further action on June 15.
PHA said it is awaiting the approval of the document “or otherwise”.