Unrest among social services employees

Department of Social Services employees across The Bahamas yesterday demonstrated during their lunch hour to bring attention to a number of issues they want resolved.

Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) President Kimsley Ferguson decried what he classified as “mistreatment and abuse” by the government. 

The workers are demanding that temporary employees be confirmed and that social services employees be recognized as essential workers and receive the benefits that come with that, including honorariums. 

“We are saying to the government of The Bahamas that social workers will tolerate no more mistreatment and abuse while being required to serve the public during the course of any natural disaster that would take place in this country,” Ferguson said.

“In my view and in their view, these individuals are essential workers in this country, should be considered for honorarium payments that are given, should be considered for insurance, should be considered for hazard pay.”

Minister of Health Renward Wells recently announced that healthcare workers who worked to fight the first wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas will receive honorariums, which were promised last August.

Ferguson said employees from the Department of Social Services also went beyond the call of duty during the pandemic.

The government extended social assistance to those most impacted in light of the unprecedented crisis, including payments and aid through the National Insurance Board (NIB) and the Department of Social Services.

Social services employees said that as a result, they were constantly put in a vulnerable position as it relates to the spread of COVID-19.

“There are health concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic given the large volume of persons that they must serve on a daily basis, but they have no health assurance or risk allowance,” Ferguson said.

“The government must determine whether social service employees are essential workers.” 

Unlike some other government departments, the department remained open during the entire pandemic, Ferguson noted.

He also pointed to longstanding concerns about people who have been working at the Department of Social Services for years without being made permanent employees. 

“There is also the issue of promotions in relation to social service,” the union president said.

“We met with the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Services initially during the month of January where we asked them if they could update us in relation to the regularization exercise. We discovered that they did absolutely nothing.”

Ferguson added, “The staff feel abandoned, overlooked and forgotten as the government has found the wherewithal to address outstanding matters in other ministries while they have been ignored by successive governments.”

Department of Social Services officials released no public response to the employees’ concerns. Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell was unreachable despite numerous attempts yesterday.

In his contribution to the budget debate in June, Campbell thanked social workers for their hard work throughout the course of the pandemic. 

The union president is hoping to meet with the prime minister to present their concerns.

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Rachel Scott

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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