Barbados PM says union did not follow protocol but UWU boss not budging on strike

Nurses who have been off the job for more than a week will have their wages docked for the duration of their work stoppage, Prime Minister Mia Mottley declared on Wednesday.

But Senator Caswell Franklyn, leader of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) which represents the striking healthcare workers, has doubled down on his position, serving notice that the industrial action which has hampered the island’s COVID-19 vaccination programme and impacted on care provided to the sick and elderly will continue unless the grievances of the nurses are resolved.

Speaking at a press conference where she condemned the action taken by the UWU, Mottley disclosed that “letters went off from the Ministry of Health” regarding those striking employees whose pay would be docked.

She could not say exactly how many nurses would receive the correspondence, although she noted that 30 nurses had withdrawn their services on Wednesday.

“This is a country governed by law, conventions and protocols,” Mottley said, noting that under the Public Service Act, workers are duty bound to abide by a Code of Conduct and Ethics.

“There are certain basic rules in law and I will share them. The word ‘may’ is discretionary and the word ‘shall’ is mandatory. Paragraph 20 of the Second Schedule of that Act… makes it clear that a person who has withdrawn their labour for strike shall not receive that remuneration. The Director of Finance will tell you that it is mandatory.

“There are some persons who didn’t indicate they were on strike but they just ain’t turn up, they ain’t call, they didn’t give an excuse, they didn’t do nothing; and similarly, at Clause 15, the power to deal with them through remuneration is there,” the Prime Minister said.

She insisted that her Government would not “unfair workers”, but made it clear that protocols agreed to for labour disputes must be respected and upheld.

The nurses started their industrial action after management of the Geriatric Hospital posted a memo informing the healthcare workers that weekly testing for unvaccinated employees would begin in accordance with the Safe Zone Directive No. 2, 2021. Franklyn later said they were also protesting longstanding unsatisfactory work conditions.

However, in addition to pointing out that Minister of Health Lt Col Jeffrey Bostic had made it clear the memo had been sent out prematurely and the Safe Zones were not yet in effect, Prime Minister Mottley charged that the UWU had not followed all the industrial relations protocols before calling out the nurses.

“The basis upon which the action would be triggered [the implementation of the Safe Zones] has never materialized. He has not asked to put other issues on the table in detail, as the Barbados Association of Registered Nurses and the National Union of Public Workers have done,” she said.

“There has been no discussion to determine what is the position of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Public Service, the Ministry of Finance on any of these longstanding issues to which Senator Franklyn refers; nor has he sought to say as a result of those discussions there has been a breakdown. Even when you reach a breakdown you don’t get to strike first because there are other things that you can do to escalate the matter.

“You can’t reach to a strike without first and foremost identifying a grievance, and once the grievance has been identified, then you have to give the details, or further and better particulars of it, so that the persons who are either accused of it or are responsible for curing it are in a position so to do after the investigation,” Mottley insisted at the press conference where the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) alluded to breached industrial relations protocols.

The Prime Minister further accused Franklyn of using the issue as a political football.

“It is my considered judgment that this matter is not industrial; this matter is political and we are in the silly season,” she contended.

But the trade union leader is sticking to his guns, refuting claims that he did not follow industrial relations protocol. He also took umbrage to the other unions being involved in the discussion with Mottley on the matter.

“Now why would the Unity Workers’ Union be on strike and the Prime Minister hold meetings with the people who are not on strike to sit down and attack the people who are on strike? Think about that. That is one of the protocols that you should observe,” an irate Franklyn said in a telephone interview with Barbados TODAY.

He insisted that the UWU, which he said represents about 300 nurses, only took action after his members’ pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We did everything correctly,” Franklyn insisted.

He said the union had written to Director General, Human Resources, in the Ministry of the Public Service, Gail Atkins and had meetings with her but got “no results”.

“She wasn’t doing anything about our concerns, not even providing minutes. Then this nonsense with the Safe Zones came up… where nurses received a memorandum that was posted on the notice board for everybody to see [identifying] 117 people who were not vaccinated and working at the Geriatric Hospital, telling them they had to go and get tested every Monday. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“We wrote to them previously and we told them that if they implement the Safe Zones without discussion or agreement from the UWU we will take strike action without any further reference to them….,” he added.

Franklyn said despite the Government’s efforts to cast him as the villain and the lack of support from the other unions, he would not be backing down.

“The strike will continue. The Prime Minister has not met with the striking people; she met with everybody else. She met with her friends and the people she can control,” the Opposition Senator said.

“I don’t want to meet with the Prime Minister because she is not the person who deals with industrial relations in the public service. I want the Director General, and she can report to the Prime Minister.”

Franklyn also responded to Mottley’s accusations that he was heartless.

During the press conference, she gave Franklyn a tongue lashing for reportedly telling nurses at a meeting “they couldn’t abandon a patient if they did not come to work” and that the patients weren’t theirs and they had to stop getting attached to them.

“I have heard many things in my 32 years of public life, but this has to rank among one of the worst statements I have heard in public life….,” Mottley said.

However, Franklyn has stood by his comments.

“I told them that they cannot abandon their patients because they are not yours to abandon. When you turn up for work they are your patients but when you don’t turn up for work there is no such thing as abandoning a patient because you abandon the patient when you sign in and take over the patient and then left work. That is abandoning the patient and we wouldn’t stand for that,” he told Barbados TODAY. “But if you do not sign over and take over the patient how can it be your patient?”

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