The General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU), who represents some of the island’s nurses, is preparing industrial action at the height of the public health emergency over a revised COVID-19 safe zone initiative.
Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn said on Wednesday that the public nurses his union represents will not be showing up for work if Government goes ahead with the planned mandatory nasal swabbing of frontline employees who refuse vaccination.
He also revealed that his union had staged a “quiet sickout” last week to convey a message about its concerns. The action forced the closure of three public health clinics during the ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections that has led to record hospitalisation and death rates for the last two months.
“We are willing to close more if necessary. We represent enough nurses to make an impact. Our members come from across the service,” he declared.
“The nurses are adamant that they don’t want that thing pushing up into their nose once a week. It is dangerous and unnecessary. Some of the nurses have complained of nose bleeds. They see this swabbing as a way of trying to coerce those who are not vaccinated into getting vaccinated,” the UWU leader told Barbados TODAY.
He argued that vaccination did not stop anyone from getting COVID or even from spreading it. “It doesn’t work,” he declared.
“So the best thing for them [healthcare workers] to do is to wear their protective gear and face masks,” he suggested.
In fact, public health officials and experts, including the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) have repeatedly advised that vaccinations frequently prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death but work best in conjunction with safety practices, including mask-wearing and frequent testing for the coronavirus.
Senator Franklyn revealed that he met Wednesday with Acting Minister of Health Senator Jerome Walcott and senior civil servants in the ministry.
“So the Ministry of Health is aware of the nurses’ position,” the controversial legislator disclosed.
He has also notified the Ministry of the Public Service in writing of the frontline workers’ planned strike.
In a letter dated November 22 and captioned Proposed Strike Action by Healthcare Workers, the UWU general secretary told the Director-General of the Public Service that the healthcare workers are concerned about being bullied into taking a mandatory COVID test.
“The nurses and other healthcare workers who are employed in public health institutions and who are members of Unity Workers Union are concerned that they are being bullied into a situation where they are required to take COVID-19 vaccinations and mandatory testing,” he wrote in the correspondence, a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY.
Senator Franklyn said he is aware that other unions have had meetings with the authorities to discuss this matter only, in preference to other longstanding issues that have been on the agenda.
“Please be informed that Unity Workers Union has authorised its members, who are employed in healthcare, to take immediate strike action, without any further notice to you, if mandatory testing is implemented without any consultations and agreement with Unity,” the union leader warned in the letter.
He however said the UWU stands ready to meet to discuss the issue of safe zones, vaccinations and testing.
“In addition, we are seeking resolution of other matters that have been on the agenda for some time. Please be guided accordingly,” Senator Franklyn added.
Last week, Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic admitted that Government did not get it right for the scheduled initial rolling out of the zones, explaining that the language in the directive was not clear and straightforward.
He said:” I’ll be the first to say, with some justification, because there were one or two things from the legal perspective that I myself was not too clear about until the persons who drafted the legislation actually along with the acting attorney general went through the legislation piece by piece and then I myself got a much better understanding.”
Since working with BAMP to get safe zones right, the health minister said the concept will be adjusted and adapted because the zones in the medical, healthcare and elderly care fields are very important.