Doctors strike drags on

Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) President Dr. Melisande Bassett said the union was “ambushed” by Ministry of Health officials during what was supposed to be a meeting with Director of Labour John Pinder to exchange information yesterday.

The union will therefore continue with its strike action until Monday.

Bassett told The Nassau Guardian that as far as she was aware, the purpose of the meeting was to hand over documents that were requested by Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis following a meeting with the union on Wednesday.

“Last night, around 9:30, I got a call from John Pinder, the director of labor, to have a meeting this morning and to provide him with the documents that the prime minister had asked for, outlining years of discussion and discourse with the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA),” she said.

“So, I came prepared with the documentation and my executive to actually deliver those items to him in preparation for our meeting with the PHA and DPH (Department of Public Health) on Monday.

“I was quite shocked when we pulled up and saw that the minister of health, the director of PHA and the permanent secretary for the ministry of health, were all present.

“So, the first thing I did, I did not get out of my car. I called Mr. Pinder and I asked him, ‘What meeting did we agree to?’

“And he rightly said, ‘I agreed to meet with you all to exchange information and to prepare for the meeting on Monday.’

“I asked if we agreed to have a meeting with PHA and DPH. He said he is aware that we did not have that confirmation. So, we were quite shocked that they sought to crash this meeting and to sideswipe us by appearing.

“It questions Mr. Pinder’s credibility if he can’t maintain a clear order in terms of, ‘I want to meet with this side and that side, and then we come together.’

“That is what we expect in fair and honest discourse and discussion in bringing this to a close, not to ambush us at a meeting that we had scheduled in good faith, to turn over documents to you so you would be aware of what you have to deal with on Monday.

“We certainly were not prepared to have that kind of discussion with them today.”

Roughly 420 doctors on New Providence and Grand Bahama withdrew their services on Wednesday.

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 Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that he thought they were meeting with the union to find an acceptable compromise and solve the issues at hand.

“We had expected to have a meeting to attempt to bring the matter to an acceptable closure,” he said.

“We were prepared to compromise to discuss the way to get medical services back to normal. As you can see, the union executives were here and they decided that they did not wish to meet.”

Asked whether he believes they ambushed the BDU, Sands said, “That’s a very strong word. I don’t know how that could be possibly the case since the expectation was and we prepared for a meeting at 10 o’clock this morning headed by the director of labor. Certainly this was not something that we planned.”

Bassett said this has only further complicated the matter.

“It only frustrates the situation more,” she said.

“I have in good faith been communicating with the minister, letting him know what my position is.

“We have been back and forth on the phone discussing the proposal and trying to come to an agreement. There are certain things that we have not been able to finalize. This isn’t the way you do good negotiations and good business.

“You don’t do this with a foreign entity. They would shut you down. Why do you think that we’re less and we deserve less respect and less deference than them? This is the problem. You keep treating us as if we don’t matter, the rule of law does not apply to Bahamians, and you do what you want to do.”

Sands maintained that the government will continue its efforts to resolve the issues.

“We will continue to attempt to bring medical services back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.

“I am now going to report to the Cabinet and to the prime minister, and we continue to attempt to get this matter resolved. This is a very unfortunate situation. I think the Bahamian people find themselves being deprived of essential healthcare services and that is a real tragedy.”

In a statement released on Thursday, the Public Hospitals Authority said services at PMH have been reduced to emergencies only due to industrial action by the BDU. The PHA said it deeply regrets the impact of the strike on the delivery of healthcare. The impacted facilities include PMH, Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, Rand Memorial Hospital and the Grand Bahama Community Clinics.

The BDU and the PHA are expected to meet at the Department of Labour on Monday.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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