Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Admittance by the government that at least 40 workers of the Georgetown Public Hospital have contracted the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is disturbing enough for those who value the right to life, human decency and workers giving of their labour in an environment that protects their health and safety.
The likely spread of this virus, based on the World Health Organisation’s calculation that for every one infected person two or three could be infected, at the most conservative the first number of likely infection is 80. This formula can be replicated for the 80 and so forth, which gives a sense of what could likely be the spread of the disease if not wrestled with.
This is the environment our first responders, our frontline healthcare workers are being asked to give of their labour, take care of the sick that visit or stay in the hospital and any in their homes. This is the environment a society expects these workers to function in without Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate compensation.
Self-preservation is mankind’s strongest emotions. Healthcare workers are human beings and they have a basic, fundamental entitlement to safety and protection of their lives. No worker should be unduly exposed knowingly to hazardous threats and potential life-threatening circumstances without adequate PPE. The lives of healthcare workers matter and as important and essential as their services are, if we recognise this, then we must protect them so they can continue to deliver this essential service.
In industrial relations, it is not only the employee that has a responsibility to conform to the laws, the responsibility is equally that of the employer. Healthcare is classified as an essential service and the operation of those workers accordingly guided. At the same time, the Essential Services Act (ESA) does not operate independent or in isolation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and all other laws impacting the working environment and welfare of these essential workers.
Whereas the ESA is to avoid shut down and strikes in the essential services, the OSHA specifically says an employee can refuse to work under any condition that threatens their safety. It follows, an employer that values the service of the workers will provide all the necessary tools, safety equipment, and continuously engage the workers’ representative to resolve differences and problems that impact their health and safety in the workplace.
None can honestly deny these frontline workers are facing grave threats in the workplace. These threats will impact on the ability to function and provide services badly needed in this pandemic. If those who have to provide care to others are not taken care of, it compromises their ability to serve and the wellness of those who seek their care.
The fact that healthcare workers continue to put their lives at risk in service to the lives of others, and are asking to be treated justly, they are not deserving to be caught in the vice of political upmanship. I reiterate, healthcare workers are not callous, they are caring professionals and all they are seeking is protection to do their job. Those who deny them this, and are supporting this denial, are callous and uncaring. They are the ones placing the lives of the healthcare workers and this nation at risk.
This issue is not only about law or seeking to score political points; it is about life and death of workers/citizens. People are getting sick and people are dying from the pandemic. The level of cruelty and callousness in handling the concerns of the healthcare workers must stop, for the longer it takes to be addressed the greater will be the adverse impact on the health of this society.
In these times the heroism of healthcare workers cannot be underestimated, overlooked or abused. They remain a key bulwark between the spread of this deadly virus, illness and death. This is not the time to pussy foot. The Government is being called on to put the health and wellness of this nation and its people first, to recognise in whose hands primarily that daily responsibility lies, and to treat the guardians (frontline healthcare workers) of this responsibility with deserving dignity and respect. There must be meaningful engagement with the Guyana Public Service Union to resolve the grievances forthwith.