Nurses association urges striking workers to get back on the job but union leader resists

Minister of Health and Wellness Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic has announced landmark improvements to the working conditions of hundreds of nurses, following three recent meetings with the Barbados Nurses Association (BNA).

However, General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) Senator Caswell Franklyn, whose members are engaged in a two-week strike over the very same issues, has accused the Mia Mottley administration of negotiating solutions to his members’ grievances with another entity.

The reforms, which address appointments, uniform allowances, specialised training, late and sporadic pay, and environmental conditions, were disclosed at a Monday evening virtual press conference.

“I am happy to report that the meeting was very cordial and this really paves the way forward for trying to improve the working conditions of our nurses,” Bostic told reporters.

President of the BNA, Valarie Francis-Miller stated that the new policies were consistent with recommendations to improve the quality of nursing care in Barbados. Praising Bostic for addressing the concerns with seriousness, she called on the striking nurses to return to their posts.

“I believe these are things they have been asking for as well and today we were able to achieve these things. So, I would like to ask them to return and let us come and negotiate with these entities so that we can push nursing forward and not compromise patient care,” urged Francis-Miller.

Franklyn, however, declared that it appeared Minister Bostic had abandoned discussions with the UWU, instead opting to negotiate the issues presented by his union with the BNA.

The trade unionist said he would await official word from the Minister, who he claims did not take his calls on Monday.

“The Minister sat down, took notes from our meeting, read back the points that we had made to him and then went back and gave them to the Barbados Nurses Association. I thought he was an officer and a gentleman,” Franklyn charged.

“Nobody has spoken to me. I don’t know of anything. He had a press conference… and he talked with them. When we get official word, we will deal with them,” the trade unionist added.

Minister Bostic, meanwhile, has denied accusations of divide-and-rule tactics by the Mottley administration over the strike which has severely disrupted the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.

He said meetings were convened with all of the country’s major unions, including the UWU, on a range of matters, including the controversial Safe Zones policies.

However, he said, UWU claims that nurses’ finances had been frozen were outside the scope of his responsibilities.

“So, there’s no divide and rule here. Far from divide and rule, we are seeking to bring all parties to the table so that we can arrive at some solutions that will be beneficial for the persons in this country who seek nursing care and also for all of the nurses, because there is no division with the nurses,” Bostic declared.

“The nurses provide a very, very important service and I am sure that they will continue to do so and we are willing at all times to meet with anyone who, following the processes and protocols, requests a meeting to discuss issues and that is exactly what happened today.”

The UWU-sanctioned industrial action, which started in late November, continued on Monday with promises from Senator Franklyn that it would be “ramped up”.

However, Bostic and Franklyn continue to differ on the impact of the strike, with the former estimating under 30 striking nurses and the latter declaring  membership of over 150 across the sector.

The new resolutions for nurses include the appointment of about six remaining temporary nurses due for appointment, and the provision of transportation for nurses at rural district hospitals and the Geriatric Hospital who are often on the road at “unsociable hours”.

A comprehensive review on allowances also arose, as the nurses discussed the absence of an updated uniform allowance, and the Ministry has agreed to provide scrubs and ceremonial uniforms. The parties also agreed to the provision of laundry services and committed to a quarterly review of these amenities.

Minister Bostic also vowed to address issues that previously prevented smooth communication down the chain of command. This will require meetings with hospital directors of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), the Psychiatric Hospital and the Geriatric Hospital, the Chief Public Health Nurse and the Chief Nursing Officer.

Authorities also agreed to regular industrial cleaning of healthcare institutions and maintenance protocols with quarterly visits from the Environmental Health Department of the Ministry.

An efficiency commission is to be established by the end of December to oversee the procurement of supplies, and equipment across the public health system.

A committee has also been established to manage late and sporadic payment of healthcare employees. It will include the Permanent Secretary, the Director-General of the Public Service and the BNA secretary.

Nurses will also receive specialised training in areas like paediatrics, gerontology and a nurse practitioners’ course through the University of the West Indies and Chamberlain University

The entities also discussed the issue of “unsociable working hours”, hazard pay, overtime pay, flexitime and medical insurance for nurses.

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