More than 200 junior doctors voted to strike yesterday, claiming there is an unresolved issue over their holiday pay.
This comes two weeks after senior doctors ended their withdrawal of services and nurses voted to strike.
Director of Labour John Pinder said the preliminary results from New Providence and Grand Bahama showed that 207 doctors voted to strike and one voted against it. He said there was one spoil ballot.
While the results were not yet in from the Family Islands, Pinder said those votes will not be enough to overturn the outcome of the strike vote as fewer than 30 doctors would have voted in those islands.
“Physicians are not paid, like everybody else, the double pay [we’re] entitled to when we work on holidays,” said Dr. Melisande Bassett, president of the Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU).
“It’s an illegal practice. It’s an issue we’ve been battling with Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) and the board since 2012. We’ve filed a trade dispute with [the Department of Labour] actually on two occasions to have them begin to start paying doctors.”
She added: “So where we’re at now is if we can’t get this solved amicably, we’re going to have to take strike action against them because they will not follow proper protocols and procedures to negotiate in good faith.”
In September, junior physicians demonstrated in front of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), claiming those who work on public holidays have consistently not been compensated.
“For us, this is personal,” said the union in September.
“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.”
Yesterday, Bassett said the doctors wanted to avert a strike.
She said the union wanted to avoid causing a similar disruption in healthcare services that resulted from the recent withdrawal of services by senior physicians.
But according to Bassett, junior doctors were left with no other choice.
“It’s not something we want because we know the upheaval it caused with the consultants when they stepped out,” she said.
“We expect that services will be interrupted [and] that’s not our ideal position but if we’re forced to take it because they refuse to deal with us sensibly, [then] logically we will have to do that. That’s not our first option. Our first option is for them to pay the required double time that the law requires without us having to spend money out of pocket to go to the Supreme Court and make them do it.”
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said last night the government wants to avoid another shutdown of services in the public healthcare system and hopes to resolve the matter.
“To the best of my knowledge the strike vote was taken, or the application for the strike [vote] was taken at the time when there was no offer to remedy the outstanding issue…,” Sands said.
“But that has now changed, so we shall see. We have no interest in any interruption of service. I think this is now getting to the point of inconveniencing the public.”
Pinder said the union’s issue was taken to the Industrial Tribunal in the past but no resolution was ever brought forth.
“Prior to my taking office, I understand that this matter was transferred to the tribunal,” Pinder said.
“The PHA tried to satisfy them but they don’t have [any] record of the amount of holidays owed to these people and they are not satisfied that the record they are receiving from the doctors is accurate. The PHA left with the view of settling but there is this fight over the record keeping of these public holidays and overtime.”
Bassett said the PHA made an offer in November.
The offer would have resolved the backpay issue for junior doctors.
“They would’ve sent us a proposal for the monies that would’ve been owed from 2014,” Bassett said.
“This actually goes back to 2010 so it didn’t actually follow within the time frame that they were required to pay.”
She continued, “The figures that they would’ve said they were willing to pay, would’ve been less than, in a five-year span, what a doctor would’ve been entitled to in a one-year span so it was grossly undervalued and quite frankly insulting.”
It is unclear when the PHA and the BDU are scheduled to meet again.