The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) is likely to be hit by industrial action sometime this week.
The issue sparking the action is the non-payment of hazard allowances for some of the over 100 orderlies at the island’s sole public hospital who say “enough is enough”.
“Even though we are accepted as a main artery in Barbados’ main health care facility, the orderlies for too long are being treated with scant respect by many members of staff, the latest blow being non-payment of hazard pay even though many others have already received theirs,” the spokesman for the group, Clyde Rawlins, told Barbados TODAY on Tuesday afternoon.
“After meeting with sections of departmental and administrative management, the matter still remains unresolved, prompting the orderlies to consider various forms of industrial action.”
Although saying the action will happen this week, Rawlins did not identify which day it would be.
The orderlies’ spokesman claimed that they have not been getting the assistance they need from either the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) or the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which represent staff at the QEH.
“Since no supportive measures from the two larger unions have been forthcoming, many are turning to the only one to show interest, namely the Unity Workers Union (UWU) of Senator Caswell Franklyn,” Rawlins declared.
The orderlies are demanding that the hazard pay be backdated to March last year when the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Barbados.
Rawlins contended that he and his colleagues, especially those who work in the main operating theatre and have to transport suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients around the hospital, deserve the hazard allowance.
He shared a QEH document with Barbados TODAY, entitled Payment of Hazard Allowance to prove that all orderlies who interact with COVID-19 patients of any category are eligible to receive the pay.
“Payment of a hazard allowance is granted to any category of staff, who is engaged permanently, temporarily, on a contractual basis or as a relief worker who provides care directly related to COVID-19,” the two-and-a-half-page document stated in its introduction.
At Section 2 (2.1), under eligibility for the payment of hazard allowance, it further states: “Employees authorized to work in the following directorates: medical services, nursing services, support services and engineering services whose duties create exposure to, but not limited to, disease-infected places which pose occupational risks or dangers to life, can be designated by the head of department/executive director to receive payment of hazard allowance.”
The QEH also recognizes that employees must be compensated for their willingness to take on duties that place workers in potentially dangerous situations, according to Section (1.1) of the document.
It also stated that workers were eligible for hazard pay if they were in direct contact with the environment where a confirmed COVID-19 patient was cared for, such as the bed, linens, medical equipment or bathroom.
Staff who transport and/or cleaned up after COVID-19 positive patients and suspected cases which later turned out to be positive also qualify for the allowance.
When Barbados TODAY contacted the QEH’s Executive Chairman Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland, she said orderlies at Harrison’s Point, QEH and all the isolation centres where they were serving COVID-19 patients had been paid the allowance.
“Not all are entitled, as all did not work with COVID like the orderlies in the isolation centres and AED [Accident and Emergency Department]. I am not sure if there may be individual-level grievances, and each request is dealt with on a case by case basis,” she pointed out.
“It would be grossly incorrect to say that orderlies as a group have not been paid. Remember, the hazard pay is a temporary bonus or token of appreciation for working with the COVID risk. It is not an entitlement or part of [a] salary. We have a set budget to be spread across all categories of staff, including doctors and nurses. We have paid out significant amounts to date to orderlies in the isolation centres, AED and QEH.”
Bynoe-Sutherland added that she was not aware of any planned industrial action, and she had spoken with the shop steward for the NUPW who also indicated he was unaware of the plan.
“He indicated that a segment of the orderlies in the QEH operating theatres are making a case for hazard pay, but those discussions are ongoing at the department level with Ms Andrea Lashley and Louise Bobb, and discussions have not broken down. NUPW is more than capable of working this matter through,” she told Barbados TODAY.
The hospital executive chairman expressed concern about strike action being taken “when there is a clear protocol for raising individual or group concerns before taking strike action”.
“Ms Bobb, our Chief Operations Officer, is very accessible to resolve these matters at the operational level,” Bynoe-Sutherland said. ([email protected])