Sep 28, 2023 News
…as nurses, doctors leave in droves, while Govt. ignores conditions of workers
Kaieteur News – Against the background of widespread shortages of health workers across the country and the low salaries being paid to those who stay in the profession, the Guyana Public Service Union is predicting a collapse of the health sector here as it documents the “disrespectful” treatment of public servants by what it described as “pretensive administration”.
At a news conference on Wednesday the GPSU said the “evasiveness of Government to engage the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) since the last encounter with the Union through the collective bargaining process is very discomforting.” This is so particularly because it was the people that elected the members of Government, who individually took an oath to uphold the law, the union stated. “Instead, they are committing wanton breaches of the law in full public view and with no consequences. It tells the populace that the institutions that were formulated to keep Government in check are either not working as they should or have been politically hijacked or is devoid of appropriate mechanisms to ensure good governance.”
The GPSU said it is ultimately the people that must decide the fate of rogue Governments. “This situation previously climaxed in April 1999 resulting in a 57 days’ strike which only ended after four organizations namely the Guyana Trades Union Congress, the Guyana Council of Churches, the Guyana Bar Association and the Private Sector Commission came together to mediate. A Memorandum of Agreement was reached and signed by the late Dr. Roger Luncheon, the then Cabinet Secretary, on behalf of the Government of Guyana with representatives of the Unions and representatives of the Mediation Team. This Memorandum of Agreement addressed among other things, the following:
The GPSU said it is guided by Article 147 (3) of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana; Section 23 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act 1997, International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention № 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, Convention № 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and Convention № 151 on Labour Relations (Public Service) that were all ratified by the Parliament of Guyana and are in force. Additionally, there is the Agreement for the Avoidance of Settlement of Disputes, between the Government of Guyana and the GPSU that is embedded in the Public Service Rules (1987) for bilaterals.
According to the excessive suffering of Public Service Workers due to the blatant disregard by both PPP/C and APNU/ AFC for legal requirements is despicable. “The public would have thought that President Irfaan Ali, who promised a lofty 50% increase for public servants while castigating the APNU/ AFC for their selfish 50% increase to ministers, disregard for collective bargaining, insensitivity to health workers and other public servants, would have learned from those mistakes which also resulted in ousting of his party from power in 2015.”
For example, the GPSU said it sent a letter to President Ali on May 16, 2022 calling for expeditious enhancement of conditions of service for medical personnel which has never been acknowledged.“The President instead chose to arbitrarily implement unenlightened conditions of service which demotivated staff while depreciating the contributions of the valuable and strategic personnel in the health sector. “Using the health sector as a case in point. The Government of Guyana has been forced to acknowledge the incontrovertible fact that its policy and approach to the resolution of industrial relation issues surrounding the conditions of work in the health sector is a complete failure. The President of Guyana should have been appalled at the failure of his Labour and Health Ministers when he was forced to disgracefully admit the main referral hospital is short of hundreds of nurses,” the GPSU stated.
Further, the union said nurses were doubling up on shifts because of these shortages. It noted that the situation at Regional Health Facilities is even worst as there are echoes of staff lamenting being overworked and underpaid at these sub-functional institutions. “There are also fears of victimization in the form of transfers and salary cuts among the exploited workers. This is a pitiful record being set for the “Dubai of the Caribbean”, at a time when the government has announced lofty ambitions to expand health services nationally in the form of seven (7) new Regional Hospitals, a specialty hospital and other primary health facilities. This administration should know the public is not fooled by extravagant ribbon cutting events and false promotion of progress in the health sector especially when they turn up to the same facilities and are faced with intolerable waiting times, lack of drugs, services and basic materials that are necessary features to deliver quality health care.”
Collapse of health sector
Meanwhile, the GPSU is predicting a continued deterioration in the health sector which it says is already bordering on collapse unless factors which are driving the unabated migration of health workers from all fields and levels of qualifications are addressed in a comprehensive manner. The union said all around the country, health workers are resigning and migrating with their entire families to Europe and North America where they can have a more dignified life. “Instead of honouring the lawful principles of collective bargaining, the Government of Guyana has chosen a path of union busting and unilateral implementation of unenlightened policies, which have compounded their own problems and will ultimately result in the death and injury of many citizens, who have no choice but to utilize the poorly managed public health care facilities. Rather than resolve industrial relation issues in collaboration with the GPSU, which will ultimately result in retention of locally trained staff, the GOG has decided to import Cuban nurses in the short term. There are already serious concerns being raised by local staff about not only the qualifications of these nurses, but also the impact on morbidity and mortality of patients. The language barrier poses a serious challenge to effective communication between professionals and more importantly between patient and nurse.”
According to the union, in a high-intensity sector such as health care, where time and details are of the essence, there is need for effective communication at all levels. The union said Government’s medium to long-term plan to train more local nurses will invariably fail mainly, because those nurses will be subject to the same harsh conditions of work and pitiful salaries which caused their predecessors to leave for greener pastures. To add insult to injury, the Cuban nurses may have a better compensation package than local nurses fueling further discontent.
The union said the arbitrary and illegal imposition of unimpactful increases in salaries have only compounded dissatisfaction since key categories of workers such as nursing tutors were excluded. Additionally, the union said, less qualified nurses are earning in excess of their more trained and experienced seniors because of the ad hoc and ill-advised manner by which salary increases were addressed. “Nurses and other health workers allowances have been callously ignored for years. The nurses who opposed a vile attack on their character by Rudy Small, CEO of Linden Hospital Complex, were victimized, issues are still outstanding. Health care workers have lost their lives and suffered injury in uninsured vehicles and their families have not received meaningful compensation,” the GPSU said.
The GPSU mentioned that workers who suffered pay and job losses as a result of illegal Covid-19 measures made at the whims of the Minister of Health, instead of the lawfully constituted Central Board of Health, continue to be denied justice. “Covid-19 health workers who suffered pay cuts at the Infectious Disease Hospital after there was an agreement with the CEO of GPHC to pay at a higher rate, will always remember that injustice, particularly if there is another pandemic. Doctors who continue to be paid $4000, which equates to a measly $250 dollars per hour before tax for sixteen (16) grueling hours of on call (overtime) will continue to leave the public sector. Physicians, who continue to receive a paltry $600 housing allowance per month at a time when rent and prices of materials for construction is increasing, will find their home in other countries. Medical interns who continue to suffer the exploitation of working 16 to 24 hours on call (overtime) with no compensation will continue to unapologetically migrate to countries where they will be treated with more respect. To add insult to injury, those who protect the health of the country are forced to eat and sleep in woefully inadequate and unsanitary conditions.”
Workers rights disrespected
According to GPSU, in summary, workers and their rights continue to be disrespected by a “pretensive administration, who is only interested in photo opportunities instead of the resolution of issues through Collective Bargaining. The time has come for government to stop playing games with the careers of the workers who sacrificed for this country during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be called upon, if they are still here, in future crisis. As a result of their executive lawlessness, a number of very important issues are currently unaddressed. However, the gravity of the situation requires a more aggressive approach to the resolution of pressing industrial relation matters. To this end, the GPSU is appealing to all members of the Public Service to stand in solidarity and be vigilant in the coming months as we press for a quick and decisive resolution of all pending matters.
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