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…says consistent flouting of agreements by Health Ministry, GPHC will not be tolerated
72-hours ultimatum remain enforced unless demands are met
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) said unless and until the demands of healthcare workers are met, the 72-hour ultimatum will remain enforced, noting that the tardy response by the Ministry of Health to a number of agreements is most insensitive and irresponsible.
Healthcare workers across the country including those at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) have been protesting the poor working conditions, the inadequate risks allowances and other remunerations for which they have subjected to.
Records show that the Public Service Union, in 2019, had warned the then Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence and the Chief Executive Officer of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) twice that industrial actions would be taken should the concerns of healthcare workers not be met.
In a letter addressed to the Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony on September 30, GPSU’s 1st Vice President Dawn Gardener said since the start of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Guyana, the situation has deteriorated. The challenges currently facing healthcare workers, she said, are enormous, noting that a number of them have been infected with virus – two of whom – a doctor and an emergency medical technician – have died.
“The infection and hospitalization of healthcare workers occurred because of deficiencies in the way this pandemic is being handled. Further, it has become necessary for these frontline workers to incur significant expenses to protect themselves and their families from being infected by this deadly virus, because of the callous disregard of uncaring employees,” the GPSU Vice President said. Additionally, she said the union has been informed that some frontline workers have been asked to reuse disposal masks and wash their gowns and aprons at home. “These ludicrous requests are occupational health and safety hazards which create safety challenges for healthcare personnel and their households,” Gardener told the Health Minister.
The GPSU Vice President said though agreements were signed both the Ministry of Public Health and GPHC have failed to adequately address the concerns of healthcare workers. She said it was this persistent failure that resulted in nurses, doctors and other medical officers taking the streets in protest.
“These protest actions are expressions of displeasure at the behavior of [the] Administration, with the consistent flouting of agreements and the failure to resolve grievances that were not only repeatedly brought to the Management’s attention by the GPSU on behalf of the aggrieved frontline workers, but were accepted as being critical by the said management,” the Vice President stated.
It was on this basis that the union set the 72-hour ultimatum. It also urged both the Health Ministry and GPHC to desist from breaching the constitutional rights of healthcare workers, including the right to take industrial action.
Over the past two months, the number of confirmed cases of the virus has skyrocketed. The death toll now stands at 85. The union is therefore pushing for all healthcare workers at risk to be considered frontline workers.
While Village Voice was unable to confirm whether the Health Minister has responded to GPSU, it has confirmed that the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall wrote the union on October 3, 2020.
In the letter addressed to GPSU President Patrick Yarde, the Attorney General accused the union of backing an illegal protest undertaking by healthcare workers.
“You must be aware that Essential Services Arbitration Act Chapter 54:01 is a law to which Article 147 (4) refers. This Act provides a procedure for the settlement of disputes in public utility undertakings and in certain services and profits strikes and lockouts in such undertakings or services,” the Attorney General told the Union President.
He said the Act together with the Constitution prohibit strike actions and lockouts without a resort to the procedure laid out in the Act. According to the Attorney General, there is no evidence to suggest that the procedures outlined in the Act were activated in part or whole.
“…consequently, the protest actions which they have embarked upon and presumably plan to continue, are absolutely unlawful and illegal. Indeed, every person engaged in strike action contrary to the Act, commits a criminal offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine or imprisonment,” Nandlall warned. He accused the union of failing to inform the healthcare workers on the legal and acceptable industrial course of action that ought to be taken.
Noting that the Government recognises the contributions of healthcare workers, the Attorney General reminded that $150M has been set aside for frontline workers, in addition to a $25,000 cash grant for which every household will benefit from.