The fate of Government’s planned start of the 24-hour polyclinic service remained in limbo days after it was due to open, with little sign that nurses’ opposition towards a shift system had softened following a heated two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the National Union of Public Workers.
On Friday, nurses pulled the rug from under a planned and widely-advertised June 1 start of the two, 24-hour polyclinics signalling to Government that they will not be bullied into accepting the new hours of work.
This afternoon’s standing-room-only meeting, which was also attended by head of the Unity Trade Union, Caswell Franklyn and NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke, ended without comment on its outcome.
Burke would only say the union would not pre-empt meetings with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Public Service, scheduled for Thursday.
“We have taken a decision not to speak to the press on the issue until we have spoken to the Ministry of the Public Service on Thursday,” said Burke, who declined to answer when asked if the nurses’ position had changed.
She explained that the union had met with the Ministry on Saturday – on the day the 24-hour service was set to begin. Today’s meeting was to apprise the nurses of the outcome of that meeting, she said, but as the nurses left, many openly expressed frustration about the manner in which they were being treated.
“We are not doing it because it is not fair to us. One day they [Government] will wake up and see all the nurses just gone from this place,” one nurse could be heard saying.
This is bare foolishness; you can’t just change people’s work conditions just so. It can’t work,” another stressed.
With the nurses’ withdrawal, the new system, set to augment the emergency services of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been postponed, as ministry officials try to negotiate with nurses on working hours and other concerns.
The NUPW revealed that the nurses at the two polyclinics, Sir Winston Scott Polyclinic and the David Thompson Health and Social Complex, earmarked for the pilot, are vehemently opposed to working on a shift system and they are not taking kindly to being compelled to do so.
Burke had previously told Barbados TODAY when the union last met with the health ministry on the subject of making the switch to a 24-hour facility, they were given the impression that the new operations would be staffed only by nurses who volunteered.
But this afternoon the union was informed by its members that they were being threatened with dismissal if they refused to work the 24-hour shift system.
Burke told Barbados TODAY on Friday: “When this thing first came up, the Ministry of Health said that persons would be able to volunteer, they were not forcing anybody to work in the shift system.
“The reason that many of these nurses signed up for the polyclinics in the first place is because they are not opened at night.
“Many have children and families to deal with on evenings. So, they are now saying to people, who originally said on an option form that they can’t work at night, that they have to work the shifts.”
Speaking Sunday night at the Barbados Labour Party’s first Anniversary Political Rally at Carlisle Car Park, Bridgetown, Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic defended the Government’s decision to go the route of the 24-hour clinics.
The Minister called on the unions and health workers to let commonsense prevail in the negotiations.
While not disclosing anything further due to the ongoing negotiations, Lt. Col. Bostic asked unions to be cooperative, arguing the service is critical for the livelihood of ordinary Barbadians. [email protected]