GPH nurses protest over meal and risk allowances
Stabroek News
February 4, 2004

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Around 50 nurses at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) stopped work yesterday in protest over meal and risk allowances leading to the administration of the institution charging breach of contractual obligations.

The nurses, from all departments, left their stations shortly after 10 am and assembled in the compound.

The nurses are demanding that their meal allowance be increased from $4,000 to $20,000 per month and that they be given a higher risk allowance, which now stands at $500 per month.

Hospital sources later told this newspaper that the vast majority of nurses resumed duties by early yesterday afternoon although some opted to continue the protest.

According to the official, the nurses' action had not severely affected the hospital's operations as all the departments were manned by senior staff and some nurses. A walk through the hospital revealed patients being cared for, albeit slowly.

Meanwhile the General Medical Officers (GMOs) attached to the hospital declared their support for the action after a lunchtime meeting.

The doctors have several grievances with the administration including security at their temporary living quarters and repairs.

They have also been agitating for increases in their meal allowance, which currently stands at $500, even when they work from 8 am to 8 am the next day.

Efforts to gain a comment from the GPHC's Chief Executive Officer, Michael Khan, were unsuccessful.

But a press statement from the hospital expressed disappointment at the behaviour of the protesting nursing professionals which it said smacks of indiscipline.

"The GPHC management is currently in negotiations with the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the recognised bargaining agent for members of the nursing staff, who have withheld their services without any proper notification.

"Discussions between the GPHC and the GPSU centred around a new Recognition Agreement to establish procedures for the Avoidance and Settle-ment of Disputes. All this precedes the establishment of a Collective Labour Agreement (CLA), which in turn, would be the foundation for negotiating terms and conditions of employment of the GPHC staff," the release said.

It goes on to say negotiations between the sides have not suffered any breakdown but rather the discussions have been following laid down procedures.

"Management therefore views this latest walk-off as a blatant breach of the workers' current contractual obligations as well as a violation of the Public Utilities Undertaking and Public Health Services Arbitration Act and the standing Public Service rules that still govern their employment."

The release further said that several nursing staff had yesterday walked off the job after signing in without officially communicating to management any reason for their actions.

The management says the nurses' illegal withholding of labour cannot be seen as one of an industrial nature since there was no basis for such action.

However, nurses told reporters they were unapologetic since they had for sometime been frustrated in their attempts to have their grievances addressed.

According to one, when they have to deal with all types of patients including those in the observation ward all they get is $500 risk allowance.

She wondered whether this was adequate compensation for the risk to life and limb that they were expected to endure everyday.

Others asked if their basic needs were not being met how could they in turn care for the needs of the sick.

Acting Health Minister Dr Jennifer Westford visited the hospital but was unsuccessful in having them resume duties.

GPSU President Patrick Yarde when contacted yesterday said that branch officials had been delegated with the responsibility to deal with the nurses' concerns.

Yarde was however critical of what he said was the ill treatment of local health workers in favour of overseas employees who come in and are offered better working conditions.

According to Yarde, the union is not prepared to accept this when locals are performing similar tasks. He also insisted that they needed to be paid on the same level as their overseas counterparts.

Junior doctors in December resorted to a two-day sickout to protest working conditions and financial benefits.

Their living quarters in the hospital compound where they are expected to stay for night calls remain in a deplorable state even after discussions with the administration.

According to the doctors, toilets and baths are not working. This newspaper saw broken plumbing and rotten flooring in the bathroom area. The doctors also said the lighting was bad and broken windowpanes let in rain. There is nowhere to sit and eat and the furniture is falling apart.

Meanwhile they say several foreign doctors recently recruited to work at the hospital are being far better accommodated.