Sep 28, 2020 News
When asked to comment on the recent protests conducted by frontline workers for improved wages, risk allowances and better protective gear, President Irfaan Ali told the press that he believes that the circumstances of those frontline workers are being exploited.
Ali’s comment follows hundreds of nurses and other frontline workers from the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), the West Demerara Regional Hospital (WDRH) and the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC) staged protests for better salaries, working conditions and even risk allowances, last week.
Carrying placards and chanting ‘No increase and allowance; no work period’, and ‘We demand risk allowances’, these frontline workers believe that their requests are “more than reasonable” particularly considering that the COVID-19 virus has so far infected more than 2,500 Guyanese and has taken the lives of 78.
“Issues that the nurses and doctors raised were under active consideration,” Ali told the press on Saturday, during a visit to the site of the new Demerara Bridge.
He went on to say, however, that “What I have seen in this strike are a few factors, and I have a strong monitoring team looking at the type of narrative being built on social media” while adding that there are “actors” who are exploiting the circumstances of those health workers.
The President was keen to highlight the $150M that has been budgeted for frontline workers, as he has emphasized that the government is committed to improving the lives of all workers. Recently, Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Vindhya Persaud announced that her ministry will be expanding its Childcare Assistance Programme to provide free childcare to frontline workers.
When questions about the particular requests made by health workers, Ali indicated that he saw requests which were beyond the scope of what the government could provide at present, particularly duty-free concessions for nurses.
The President went on to assert that the $5B budgeted by the government for sugar workers should not be used to draw a parallel by health workers as justification or a rationale for their demands. With this he said, “You can physically see the socio-economic impact following the closure of those estates on those communities. I can’t apologize for bringing back those jobs… Where was the solidarity when more than 7,000 sugar workers were sent home? What was the situation then?”
Nonetheless, Ali gave his assurance that the government is committed to creating better lives for each and every Guyanese.
Meanwhile The Ministry of Health has issued a warning to healthcare workers against engaging in unauthorized protest action over risk allowance and other benefits.
According to a letter signed by the Permanent Secretary, Collette Adams that has made its way into the public, the Ministry has taken note of the unauthorised industrial actions by nurses and other medical personnel who have engaged in such activity.
The Ministry has therefore issued a warning that they will be dealt with according to the Public Service rules and regulations.
Adams noted that while several categories of healthcare workers, including nurses and Government Medical Officers, are entitled to risk allowance once they work in the infectious wards/units, the Ministry understands the need for additional remuneration for all categories of health workers who have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry issued a memo to all Regional Health Officers (RHO) to submit to their relevant accounting and personnel units a list of all members of staff who are currently considered “At risk”.
In addition to the Ministry’s missive, Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) sent out a statement expressing concern that the Guyana Public Service Union, (GPSU) instigated and coordinated protest action involving nurses and other health care workers of the Corporation on September 25, 2020 without exhausting proper industrial relations practices and procedures in accordance with the Public Utilities Undertaking and Public Health Service Act Chapter 54:01.
The administration noted that while all staff members provided noteworthy service to the public during the pandemic, health care workers from the GPHC have resorted to measures that can only aggravate the current situation and place addition challenges on our fragile public health system.
According to the statement, the hospital management noted that protecting staffers as this pandemic evolves remains a top priority.
The workers were warned to refrain from accepting inappropriate advice and abandoning their duties to support further illegal protest action until every avenue provided for in the relevant legislation is exhausted.
“Until such time,” the statement said, “further protest action(s) remain illegal and may attract punitive action. At the interim, we recommend that proper industrial relations practices and procedures be observed, by all, in accordance with the Public Utilities Undertaking and Public Health Services Act and request that all health care practitioners continue to do their jobs in a professional manner; and await the provisions contained within the 2020 National Budget.”
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