Junior physicians demonstrated in front of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) yesterday, claiming they are being ill-treated and that they are being denied certain key benefits.
“The government of The Bahamas has consistently shown its utter disregard for the worth of junior physicians,” the Bahamas Doctors Union(BDU) said in a statement.
The doctors claim they are being denied maternity benefits. They are also demanding holiday pay and allege that medical licenses have been revoked because of changes to licensing requirements, and that contracts have been issued in a manner that is not in line with their industrial agreement.
“We’ve sat at the table and we’ve asked for these issues to be addressed but they have not,” said BDU President Dr. Melisande Bassett during the protest.
“There is no reason why in the 21st century we should be battling you for basic human rights and basic human dignity. We ask that you sit with us.
“Talk with us sensibly, truthfully, honestly and deal with these simple issues that no Bahamian worker, whether they’re for a private entity or much less the government, should have to face.”
In response to the allegations made by the BDU regarding medical licenses and contracts, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said he would not be able to intervene.
“There is no legal option for the minister to interpose him or herself into the decision-making of the [Bahamas Medical] Council (BMC). That would be political interference,” he said.
“The Medical Council functions with a degree of legal autonomy and any decision that an individual or group feels they are [aggrieved by] then they have the right to try for relief through the courts of The Bahamas. Furthermore, the Medical Council has no interest in any industrial agreement because each and every physician is licensed and registered in his or her own right and his or her own merit.”
Sands said the allegation concerning the lack of holiday pay was perhaps the most “significant in terms of the longstanding lack of resolution dating to 2015”.
He said he hopes the matter could be successfully resolved.
In its statement, the Doctors Union claimed junior physicians who work on public holidays have consistently not been compensated.
“For us, this is personal,” the union said. “In a field where eating Christmas dinner from a Tupperware container or celebrating special events vicariously through photographs has become the norm, it is unfair and outright criminal to be denied holiday pay.”
The Doctors Union also said it has taken legal action over the maternity benefits issue.
“It is shameful that we have to go to such lengths to obtain the basic right that are afforded to us by law,” it said.
The issue of denial of maternity benefits comes down to double dipping, according to Sands.
“All of the doctors have insurance,” he said.
“But the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) says that maternity benefits do not kick in until a year after you’ve been working. But, the definition of when you are a full-time employee of the Public [Hospitals] Authority is what is in question here.”
Sands added: “Some people believe that ‘if I get pregnant now that’s a bonus’. Some employers believe, ‘if I have been paying the employee on full benefits on maternity, then NIB is reimbursing me because I no longer have the benefit of this employee at work’.
“That is the point of contention as it relates to that particular benefit. So, there’s been back and forth between what is fair, what is equitable, what is the agreement and so forth.”
He added that there were ongoing cases where the PHA said that three women were not eligible for maternity leave because they had gotten pregnant “within that time”.
Sands added: “There has been a back and forth discussion regarding whether that policy is fair, reasonable and so on and so forth.”
Conditions of PMH
Nurses also supported the protest.
Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) President Amancha Williams said the challenges at PMH were well known.
“The condition of the hospital is in a poor state and they need the government to react very quickly or we will escalate,” Williams said.
“We need them to come and react on what is happening in the hospital and do what is needed to be done. We’re tired of being neglected. We [aren’t] asking for nothing, you know. All we are asking them to [do is follow], like Dr. Bassett said, what is in the policy. They have an industrial agreement. The government failed to carry out the industrial agreement. Honor your industrial agreement.”
Sands acknowledged yesterday that the hospital has “significant challenges” but said these were legacy issues that he was seeking to correct.
“The process of making those corrections, however, is more than just waving a magic wand,” he said.
“It involves planning, it involves financing, it involves redevelopment and construction, etc. We are in the process of doing exactly that.”
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice
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