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…as gov’t moves to cut salaries of striking nurses, some, by more than 90%
….Union to set up relief fund, Opposition pledges significant support
By Svetlana Marshall
Despite having their salaries cut, some by more than 90%, nurses at Linden, who for more than 50 days have been protesting for the removal of Rudolph Small as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Linden Hospital Complex, have vowed to up the ante even as the Ministry of Health warns that continued protest actions can result in them being fired.
“This has gone on long enough and enough is enough. Respect our nurses; respect our women, that is all we ask,” Registered Nurse (RN) Olivia Trotman said as she made a call for the Ministry of Health and by extension the Government of Guyana to heed to the cries of the nurses, and remove Small from the Linden Hospital Complex.
The nurses said while the derogatory statement made by Small, in February, to suggest that they often abandon their duties at nights to engage in extra-marital affairs was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back,’ the CEO, since taking up Office in late 2020, has shown scant regard for the workers of the Linden Hospital Complex, and under no circumstance they are prepared to work with him.
According to Nurse Trotman, nurses at the Linden Hospital Complex are made to work with little or nothing as the health facility lacks basic supplies. “There are many patients in the community that can testify about the amount of drugs they have to buy when they come at the hospital,” Nurse Trotman said while noting that despite the shortages, nurses, would often put forward their best, and stretch the little there is.
The Registered Nurse said it is unacceptable that their salaries are now being cut. She, was at the time, speaking during a meeting held on Thursday (April 22) by the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon with the affected nurses at the Bauxite Centennial Arch at Mackenzie, Linden. Village Voice Newspaper understands that the salaries of more than 50 of the close to 100 protesting nurses have been slashed.
In a letter dated March 4, 2021, a nurse at the Linden Hospital Complex was informed that deductions would be made from her salary over a period two months for reportedly being absent from work without leave or adequate excuse for approximately 25 days. However, the dates listed in the letter seen by Village Voice News spanned from October, 2019 to December, 2020.
According to the stamped Ministry of Health letter, the nurse was receiving a second warning in accordance with Section G of the Public Service Rules, and a third breach could result in dismissal.
Another letter addressed to another Registered Nurse, dated April 9, 2021 also included threats of dismissal. That nurse was accused of being absent from work for a period of 23 days from March 3-25, 2021 without leave or adequate excuse.
“By a copy of this letter the Principal Assistant Secretary (F) is hereby requested to make the necessary deductions at the earliest convenience,” a section of the letter dated April 9, 2021 stated.
Representative of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Maurice Butters, who was present during the meeting with the Opposition, told Village Voice News that the deductions are illegal.
“The Public Service rules and the Labour Law state if an incident should occur and six months pass and nothing is done about it, you lose the right to bring it back on the floor, and those letters which were sent about people being absent and people not being at work, those are since 2017, 2018, so six months [have] elapsed and that is why we are holding strong that the deductions for those days are illegal,” Butters told this newspaper.
The GPSU representative is also contending that the deductions made for the month of March are also illegal, explaining that the nurses were never on strike, and as such their salaries cannot be cut. “When you are on protest it is different from when you are on strike, when you are protesting, you sign on your time and then you come out to protest, if you are on strike then it is a different thing,” he posited.
Butters said contrary to the Labour Laws, some nurses in March and April went home with as little as $3000. “The other thing is, some people received as little as $3000 for their month salary. The labour law also clearly states that not more than a third should be deducted from any employee’s salary, and before such deduction is done, there must be a conversation, between the Management and the individual,” he contended.
GPSU has vowed to challenge the Health Ministry’s decision to slash the salaries of the protesting nurses. However, in the interim, GPSU – with the full backing of the Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) – is in the processing of establishing a ‘relief fund’ to assist the affected nurses.
Harmon condemned the decision taken by the Health Ministry to slash the salaries of nurses, who continue to put their lives on the line during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has to be a heartless regime that would believe that they can give a nurse, a frontline worker, who is putting his or her and in most cases her, life on the line every single day, that you can treat them in a way, that is less than human. No one should accept that, no one should tolerate that,” the Opposition Leader said as he addressed the nurses.
Harmon, who was backed by a number of APNU+AFC Members of Parliament, the majority being women, said the Coalition, during a meeting with the Nurses Representatives and the Union on April 20, pledged to contribute to the fund that would be established to assist nurses.
“We have committed to contributing in a significant way to that bank account which is now being opened…We are going to make a significant first contribution to it,” he assured the nurses.
TIME TO MOBILISE
Speaking also in the presence of the Region 10 Regional Chairman Deron Adams; the Regional Vice Chairman Douglas Gittens and other Regional Officials including MP Jermaine Figueira and MP Devin Sears, the Opposition Leader called the people of Region 10 to action, saying it is time to rally around the nurses to ensure that their demands are met.
“This is an effort that involves all of us, because to the extent that our nurses are unable to provide the quality healthcare that they need to provide to this community, it is to that extent that Linden is sick in a special crisis that has been created by the People’s Progressive Party,” Harmon said.
He submitted that the Government’s decision not to remove Small is deliberate and is intended to “punish” the people of Region 10 for throwing, largely, their support behind the APNU+AFC Coalition.
“We stand firmly with you, and we expect that the community will again come out in full support of these nurses,” Harmon said while iterating the need for the people of the district to mobilize.
“We have spoken enough, we have been talking all the time, we talking to the regime, we talking to the regional administration, we are talking to the hospital people, and still nothing ain’t happening with these nurses, well, time for talk done. This community will stand firmly behind our nurses,” he added.
Optimistic that the Election Petition, which is set to be decided upon on Monday, will be in APNU+AFC’s favour, Harmon placed Small and the PPP/C Government on notice.
“Rudy Small take notice, take notice, that these nurses that you are trying to penalise, that the PPP is trying to penalise, that your days are numbered, your days are numbered, that you would not be here for too long,” he warned.
Regional Vice Chairman Gittens told the Village Voice Newspaper that the nurses have the full support of the Regional Administration.
“We are not prepared to work with Mr Rudy Small, we are not prepared at any level to give this guy a chance back in, we want him gone, and we want them to send someone new,” he told his newspaper.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Malcom Watkins had instructed the removal of Small, however, days later, on March 2, the decision was rescinded, and CEO was ordered to report for duty.
The Health Ministry has since indicated that it will not engage in negotiations for the removal of Small unless the nurses call off the protest.