Scores of nurses protested outside Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) yesterday, railing against a new shift system announced by the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) last week.
The Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) is taking issue with two key elements of the new system: Firstly, it believes the $1.75 per hour being added to the base salary of nurses who work the night shift is insulting. It also says the structure of the new system will not provide for sufficient rest periods and will undoubtedly lead to burn out and mistakes on the part of nurses.
BNU President Amancha Williams said the new shift would mix days and nights back to back and insists it would not give nurses enough time to rest.
Night duty nurses currently work four nights on, four nights off.
Speaking of the new shift, Williams told The Nassau Guardian, “It would give the body an imbalance. It does not give you a perfect rest as the days are split.
“Currently, it’s eight weeks of nights and then you go early. With the new system it’s early, nights, early, nights; your body cannot function.”
Williams said some nurses would “rather quit than work this slavery shift”.
PHA Managing Director Catherine Weech said last week “the new shift system establishes a 40-hour work week and an eight-hour daily shift as opposed to the current 10-hour shift for night duty nurses.
“In consideration of this, the PHA has agreed with the Bahamas Nurses Union to pay all nurses scheduled to work between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., an amount of $1.75 per hour in addition to their standard base hourly pay,” Weech said.
But Williams said the union did not agree to the change.
Late yesterday, the PHA said it has a “legally enforceable agreement” with the union dated December 9, 2014. It released a copy of the agreement to the media.
The agreement, signed by then union president Jannah Khalfani, states, “The parties agree to a 40-hour work week. The parties agree to eight-hour shifts. The parties agree to 10-hour minimum rest period between shifts. The parties agree that persons working a shift system 6 p.m. – 6 a.m. shall be paid a shift premium of $1.75.”
“The authority stands by our decision to implement the new shift system as it not only levels the playing field for nurses across the PHA, but is a testament to the PHA’s ongoing commitment to ensure that its human resources policies are consistent with ratified labour agreements and regional and international standards of practice,” the PHA said.
But Williams said the 2014 agreement does not stand as it was made “null and void” by the 2015 industrial agreement, which she said does not speak to a shift premium.
Williams said if the 2014 agreement indeed does stand, then that would mean that nurses are individually owed around $12,000 in pay they never received over the last four years.
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said the $1.75 would amount to just under $4,000 a year.
Yesterday, Williams characterized the protest as a “walk out”.
“It’s not a strike. We don’t want the public to be misled or hear one side of the story,” she said.
Williams said that usually nurses take a 15-minute break for tea instead of lunch but “today the [nurses] will take an hour lunch”.
“The nurse sits all day on an eight-hour shift and does not take a lunch break [during] a 10-hour shift,” Williams said.
“They do not take a lunch break. Today, they are taking a lunch break. It shows they are here serving the country. You know what it is to go days and days without taking a lunch break? No, we’re taking a lunch break today.”
During the protest, BNU Secretary General Julian Mullings added: “Let it be known, the BNU has not had any conclusive agreements regarding one, terms and conditions, and two a new shift system and rosters; neither has the union signed any agreement document that states otherwise. The only document signed in 2014 were terms and conditions to be met by both parties in order for a shift change to occur.
“Since then, there have been several committees formed to review the proposed roster; however, no agreements could be met as the proposed rosters were less favorable than what is being performed today.”
Regarding the salary issue, Williams told reporters during the protest, “When a police officer comes in with no qualification, a nurse comes in with a bachelor’s degree with four years in university and a master’s. What are you saying to us? Inequity.”
Mullings added: “They want to give the nurses $1.75 but now things in our country have changed since then. The cost of living has gone up, VAT is in place, we [are] on the verge of another tax.”
Williams told reporters that nurses all around the country walked out yesterday
The PHA said “proactive steps” were taken by the hospital’s management team to ensure that patients and other guests were able to access the facility without any obstruction.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice
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