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Sickout impacts airports, hospital

Action expected to continue today 

Services at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) and several airports on the Family Islands were disrupted yesterday after members of the Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) called in sick over outstanding industrial agreements.

Officials from the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) were unable to confirm how many employees called in sick, but Director of Aviation Algernon Cargill said 31 employees of airports on Abaco, Bimini, Cat Island and San Salvador did so.

The sickout came less than a week after the BPSU threatened to shut down PMH and airports across The Bahamas as a result of stagnated industrial agreement negotiations with the PHA and the Department of Aviation.

BPSU President Kimsley Ferguson declined to comment yesterday.

Cargill said security officers and firemen were among those who did not report to work at the airports, but he said management showed up.

“We received a voice note that this was a coordinated effort by the Bahamas Public Services Union to deny their labor today,” Cargill said shortly after 9 a.m.

“We have mobilized teams from Nassau who are traveling to these islands, so they can ensure that the airports reopen within the next two hours.

“I must say that Bahamasair has cooperated with the Airport Authority in ensuring that we do all that is possible to get these airports reopened as quickly as possible.”

He said the department is “disappointed that the union is taking this position”.

Cargill said the authority aimed to ensure that there was as little interruption for travelers as possible.

“We are concerned because we have been working in good faith over the past several weeks to resolve the Family Island issues for the Bahamas Public Services Union,” he said.

“Now, to be advised that within the next day or two that they will be on strike really indicates to us that we are obviously on different pages.” 

The airports were reopened by noon, according to Cargill.

In a voice note, Troy Beneby, a shop steward in the BPSU, advised members that “a bunch of airports” had already closed down.

“We’re sitting out today and tomorrow based on the fact that the government can find money, $35 million for bridge [and] the Family Island salaries are below average. The union already did all the paperwork,” he said.

“We already submitted it. Mr. Cargill has said that [he’s] just waiting on the permanent secretary to send it back to commence payment and adjust the Family Island salaries, but why until after election and you have uncertainty?

“No, we did what we did today to make sure to force them to pay everybody before the election or have some guaranteed signature to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’” 

While the voice note made no mention of PMH, PHA Managing Director Catherine Weech confirmed that employees in multiple departments at the hospital also called in sick.

“We’re trying to understand to the extent that it is a sickout,” she said.

“We understand that some services are experiencing [staff] calling in sick today. So, we’re just trying to understand that across the entire PHA. Nothing is happening at Sandilands [Rehabilitation Center] at the moment.

“Grand Bahama had it in the housekeeping department, but we have contract services there, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. PMH morgue staff, we understand, have called in sick. But we’re trying to understand to what extent other areas are impacted.”

In a statement, the PHA announced that morgue services at PMH, including the identification of remains and collection of remains by funeral homes, are suspended until further notice. 

The BPSU represents ancillary healthcare workers, including individuals who work in the public hospitals’ laboratory and housekeeping departments.

Last month, scores of those workers called in sick for about a week.

The sickout impacted services across the public healthcare system and resulted in the temporary suspension at the blood bank and the morgue at PMH.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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