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…Linden nurses say as protest end without results
A 66-day protest demanding, among other things, the removal of Rudolph Small, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC), was called off last Wednesday, though none of the demands made by the nurses was met. For U.S based Guyanese Trade Unionist, Carmen Charles, the decision to end the protest opens the door for greater disrespect to take place not only at the Linden Hospital Complex but at other entities across the country.
“I think the mistake that they made was to concede, because you are empowering not only him but others to do the same,” Charles, the President of the Local 420 Municipal Hospital Employees Union in New York, told Village Voice Newspaper during an exclusive interview.
Charles said the disrespect meted out to the nurses by Small warranted his removal. In February, during a recorded conversation with a local blogger, Small accused nurses of abandoning their duties at nights to engage in extra-marital affairs. The nurses had said too that since taking up Office in late 2020, the CEO has shown scant regard for the workers of the Linden Hospital Complex.
“On every front it’s wrong, on every front it’s wrong,” Charles said as she condemned the actions of Small.
The nurses had vowed never to work with Small but when more than 50 of them had their salaries cut, in some cases by more than 90%, they buckled under pressure. “I don’t know if Government can arbitrarily cut workers’ salary. That would never happen in the U.S,” Charles said.
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 of 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 Newspaper 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.
Speaking to Village Voice Newspaper under anonymity, one of the nurses said though the protest commenced in March with more than 100 nurses, the number gradually reduced after the Management of the Hospital together with the Ministry of Health began to cut their salaries. “Nurses started going back [to work] and a few of us were left protesting,” the Registered Nurse told this newspaper.
She said on Thursday (May 6) the remaining nurses resumed duty at the Linden Hospital dissatisfied that their concerns were not addressed by the Government. The Registered Nurses said many of her colleagues were “broke” and felt that in order to provide for their families, they had no other choice but to return to work. “It’s sad,” she said while expressing disappointment that the Government turned a blind eye to their plight while responding with alacrity to the needs of the sugar workers.
Days before the protest ended, President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Coretta McDonald had lobbied the Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton to respond to the cries of the nurses.
“On this day I wish to stand in representation of our nurses in Linden, who have been crying out for more than sixty days, our nurses in Georgetown have cried out, we have heard the cries of the teachers and our public servants all across this country. Yes that simply cry for increased wages and better conditions of work, that cry for respect, that cry for equal opportunities, that cry for fairness and safety in the work place,” McDonald said in her Labour Day address.
Reminding the Government that women make up a large percentage of the workforce, the GTUC President said it is important for their rights to be respected and protected.
“…therefore let me make this call for the removal of Mr Small, the CEO of the Linden Hospital who would have uttered those non-factual and distasteful statements against our dedicated and committed nurses,” the Trade Unionist said as she called on Minister Hamilton to launch an investigation to determine the damaging effects Small’s conduct has had on the lives of nurses.
“Please pay attention to these cries and offer the necessary counseling and return of monies that were deducted,” she urged.
But the Minister, in response, said though the Ministry of Labour had intervened, the Ministry of Health had indicated that it will not negotiate with the nurses’ representatives unless the protest is called off, as he sought to laid the blame at the feet of the union.
“We made a request of the union to call off the strike, agitation, sit-in, whatever they were calling it, because the employer position was, they will not negotiate under duress. It is the representative union of the nurses, who are at fault, not the Ministry of Labour,” Minister Hamilton said during GTUC’s Labour Day Rally at the Critchlow Labour College.
But Veteran Trade Unionist, Norris Witter told the Labour Minister that Government’s response to the cries of sugar workers, who protested for an increase in wages and salaries, was vastly different to its response to the nurses, who were protesting for better working conditions and the removal of Small.
“The kind of intervention that was made into the sugar workers’ dispute as against that which was made in the Linden dispute, if you look at the interventions, you will see some inconsistencies, as trade unions would say, double standard; I think consistency is important for credibility,” Witter said.
Even as sugar workers protested, the Government, in response, approved $200M to facilitate an increase in wages and salaries, however, in the case of the nurses, the Government, through the Ministry of Health, said it will not negotiate with the nurses’ union representatives if the protest is ongoing. Their salaries were subsequently cut.