Summer of discontent: disappointments and temper tantrums

The summer of our discontent continues. Many people are in a foul mood.

Mistakes with Oban were surprising; the dramatic increase in value-added tax (VAT), maddening; blunders on the new post office, inexcusable; and then Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) blackouts topped the list of things the government did not get right.

Meanwhile, the government is tone deaf.

Rather than adjusting strategies or tweaking policies to respond to the mood in the country, it dismisses advice that counters its policies and strategies, ignores counsel on alternatives and refuses to admit fault anywhere.

Determined to balance the budget by increasing taxes rather than through economic growth, additional taxes were heaped on the population in a weak economy with stagnant wage growth.

VAT is now 12 percent, increased from seven percent by a governing party which in opposition, opposed its introduction.

The public’s purchasing power has decreased accordingly.

The contract between the government and the Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) concluded in 2014 (before the introduction of VAT), expired in 2017, yet the government made no budgetary provision to accommodate a wage increase this year!

Civil servants marched on the Cabinet Office on Thursday past, demonstrating their unhappiness with the government’s failure to pay a lump sum of $1,200 toward their anticipated salary increase.

We understand the frustration of the public and public officers.

Then, there are the junior doctors.

Their complaint centers on non-payment for public holidays on which they are required to work much like nurses, police and defense force officers, and customs and immigration officers in the public sector and hotel, restaurant and some retail workers in the private sector.

The Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) engages nearly 600 doctors. There can hardly be more than that number of hospital beds in the Princess Margaret Hospital, the Rand Memorial Hospital and Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre and the clinics not under the Department of Public Health combined.

There are 11 annual public holidays. Every junior doctor does not work on each of the 11 public holidays. Because junior doctors refuse to use the PHA’s time management system to log days and hours worked, it is difficult to determine who worked on holidays.

Seeking to resolve the stalemate, the PHA, which has never disputed the entitlement of some junior doctors to holiday pay, developed a formula establishing a sum it is willing to pay to each doctor for unpaid holidays worked, notwithstanding their inability to verify whether a particular doctor actually worked a specific number of holidays.

The PHA proposed to pay that sum to doctors over five installments.

The doctors’ representatives discussed their dilemma with the prime minister and reportedly received assurances that the sum will be paid in two payments.

Still, they are not satisfied.

A purported list of additional demands includes for PHA junior doctors real property tax waivers, duty exemption on the importation of a car every three years and a paid parking lot at the Princess Margaret Hospital with profits being shared between the government and the doctors union!

We are astounded by the position of the union, whose membership in their overwhelming majority has been mainly educated and trained at the public expense; and who in very large numbers refuse assignments in our Family Islands, requiring the engagement of foreign doctors to fill these essential posts.

It is unconscionable that the Bahamian taxpayer, having funded the education and training of nearly all these doctors, should be required to endure the withdrawal of services by them on what amounts to frivolous complaints.

And it is unconscionable that they are willing to inconvenience their patients and endanger the health and well-being of their benefactors – the Bahamian public – as they throw temper tantrums because they are asked to behave like everyone else and log their time worked.

The PHA should adopt a policy of only contracting doctors to work on shifts, making all contract renewals subject to shift terms.

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