A proposed meeting between the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) and the Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) was canceled yesterday after the doctors said they were advised not to sign off on a proposal from Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Director of Labour John Pinder said yesterday.
According to Pinder, Minnis proposed to pay the doctors $4.9 million in owed holiday back pay.
But Pinder said that BDU President Dr. Melisande Bassett told him that she was advised that signing the document would not be in the doctors’ best interest.
In a statement yesterday, Bassett said, “The government has acknowledged that the junior doctors are owed for working on public holidays for the past 10 years and made provisions for the funds to be paid.
“However, the BDU has not been able to sign an agreement with the minister of health, Dr. Duane Sands, because he insists that he is entitled to make deductions from those funds.
“The BDU has been advised by our legal advisor that it would be foolish to agree to such a deduction as this would be contrary to what is constitutionally allowed.
“In addition, current government provisions will not bring what is owed current, and no agreement has been made as to how holiday pay will be addressed in the future.”
Pinder said Bassett told him that “her counsel has advised her that there is some language in the documents that was presented to her in the meeting with the prime minister that makes whatever is in that document null and void”.
“And so, she does not wish to agree or sign off on that document, and part of that discussion this morning would have been to get some sort of agreement in place so that they could proceed with payments owed to the doctors union by the PHA, or the Ministry of Health could proceed with payments, but she is not satisfied, based on her legal advice, that the document is in their best interest,” Pinder said.
Roughly 420 doctors on New Providence and Grand Bahama withdrew their services last week.
The withdrawal of services came more than eight months after the doctors voted to strike.
The key issue is holiday pay, with the union claiming that the doctors are not being paid for working on holidays.
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said yesterday that the matter has been referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
He said the strike action has “affected and threatened the public interest”.
Dr. Bassett said yesterday that she would be advising her members to return to work today in accordance with the Industrial Relations Act.
Before the strike action was canceled, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that he believed the public was getting frustrated with the strike.
“The ministry’s position is that this is becoming increasingly untenable,” Sands said.
“I believe that the patience of the Bahamian people is wearing thin, and they would like to see it resolved.”
In her statement, Bassett emphasized that the strike was a last resort option in negotiations that have been ongoing for a decade.
“The BDU has expressed to Dr. Sands on numerous occasions that the members of the BDU are ready to get back to work, but can only do so when: there is a legally binding and fair document to sign; there is a timeline to resolve the other outstanding issues, [and] all of the monies agreed to by the prime minister are paid to the junior doctors,” she said.
“The inconvenience and frustration that the public is experiencing at this unfortunate time lies squarely at the feet of the minister of health.”
She added, “We reiterate that it has taken us 10 years of failed negotiations to reach to this point. Knowing full well the impact of industrial action on the public, we demonstrated restraint and held off for eight months while we attempted to conclude this matter amicably.
“In our efforts toward conciliation, the BDU has conceded six years of holiday pay – the holiday period in question extends back to 2010, (utilizing the PHA calculations) this accounts for monies owed in excess of $10 million.
“BDU realized the financial burden this posed on the public purse and made numerous concessions: during negotiations this money payout was reduced to less than half; BDU waived all interest to the monies owed; BDU gave the government options for non-monetary alternatives for payment which included construction of a parking garage, improved insurance or one-time tax waivers.
“We viewed these non-monetary concessions as innovative and certainly a possible means for negotiating with other unions who are owed monies. The release of BDU’s options for non-monetary compensation by PHA and DPH without providing the context is a lack of good faith.”