by Linda Straker
Health Minister Nickolas Steele has confirmed that Government was surprised and shocked by the decision of the Public Workers Union to stage an industrial protest at the General Hospital and two other health facilities on Monday.
“Government was not informed of a breakdown of any kind before a segment of the leadership of the Public Workers Union agitated the walkout,” Steele said during the Tuesday morning Post-Cabinet briefing.
In a prepared statement, Steele said that some of the issues mentioned in reports about this current protest are being very actively addressed, including retroactive payments and increments, for which negotiations are ongoing.
“Because of all of these, we believe that this week’s industrial action is both surprising and unfortunate, and invite the nurses to return to the job, and the Union leaders to return to the discussion and negotiating table,” he said.
Steele said that Government has been waiting for the last 2 months for a proposal from the PWU to discuss salary and other benefits for all public sector workers, which also include nurses. “To date, we have received proposals from the GUT, Police Welfare, but not from the Public Workers Union, which represents the nurses. The government is eager to start the broad negotiations on all these matters, and look forward to the submission of all proposals for consideration,” he said.
In the statement, Steele said that it also appears that the Union is opposed to the plan to some 80 plus nurses and nursing assistants on a part-time contractual basis.
“It must be noted that these nurses have been without work for many months in spite of their qualifications. Because of the ongoing structural adjustment programme, government is debarred from hiring these nurses on a full-time permanent basis,” said the Health Minister who explained that the option therefore, until there are permanent openings, is to either engage them in the way proposed, or leave them on the bread line.
Though the Union did not issue a statement as to the direct reason for Monday’s action, on the day of the silent industrial protest which saw workers abandoning their jobs for half day, acting PWU President Rachel Roberts and the nurses were displaying placards that called for improved working conditions, payment of increment, and no to the hiring of contract workers.