Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that junior doctors who are considering industrial action over not being paid holiday pay, have refused to clock in, leaving the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) unable to monitor who should be paid for those days.
More than 200 junior doctors this week voted to strike due to unresolved issues over holiday pay.
Sands also suggested that the doctors were not acting in a professional manner.
“It’s difficult to call doctors a part of the working class, and I think this discussion really gets at the heart of what defines a professional,” Sands told reporters outside Cabinet.
“Bear in mind, if you look at junior doctors, the average salary is about $48,000 a year and their total compensation package is about $80,000 plus 15 percent gratuity at the end of three years.
“So, it’s hardly true to consider those individuals as typical working class.”
Referencing a sermon he heard on Sunday about vocations, Sands said being a doctor requires a certain amount of sacrifice.
“Particularly when you add the fact that the Bahamian people have paid for the education of the overwhelming majority of these young physicians, the fact that Bahamian patients are being asked to possibly endure the inconvenience of a strike, it means that we need to go back and look fundamentally at what it means to be a professional,” he said.
Asked whether he believes the junior doctors are being ungrateful, Sands said, “I don’t think there’s a need to use pejoratives. The question is: What is the expectation of the public? And what is the expectation of those persons who benefit from the…taxpayers?
“And, so, while certain workers would expect that every hour that they show up they should be compensated and that they should clock in, there are certain classes of professionals that feel that they shouldn’t have to clock in, that they could take a casual day, that they will be expected to do what they have to do and leave and not be treated as a typical worker, but then the flip side is you negotiate, ‘Well, I worked this particular day and I worked that particular day and I expect to be paid for [it].’
“I think one of the reasons why this was never dealt with, was because there was a perception that this did not apply.”
The doctors’ strike vote comes two weeks after senior physicians ended their withdrawal of services and nurses voted to strike.
President of the Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU) Dr. Melisande Bassett said on Monday that their issue with holiday pay has been ongoing since 2012 and trade disputes have been filed on two occasions.
“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,” Bassett said.
Sands, however, confirmed yesterday that the Public Hospitals Authority has made an offer to the BDU to compensate doctors for the public holidays worked over the past five or six years.
“The offer, I believe, is a rather generous offer. But I think what we are watching is a transition of professionalism and whether it makes it better or worse, only time will tell,” he said.
Asked whether he agrees with the demands of the doctors, Sands added, “You know I thought long and hard as to how I should respond to this and clearly the last thing you want to do is stick a hornets nest, but I think as we speak about the withdrawal of healthcare services by any group of professionals, the public is looking on and the public is asking the question: ‘What does this mean?’
“And I think it’s a valid question.”