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EDITORIAL: Unions battling QEH

rhondathompson, [email protected]

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JUST AS IT SEEMED THAT the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) was settling down to a purposeful and controversy free existence, difficulties have once again arisen between the various unions representing staffers and management at the island’s lone public hospital.Ominously, on this occasion, the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) is not alone in its battles with the QEH’s authorities, but the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) are also joined in this latest dispute which threatens the good relations between management and staff at the QEH.From time to time in the not so recent past, disputes of one kind or another had arisen at that institution, but it was thought that the decentralisation of the decision making power from the political directorate, and the creation of a board would have improved staff relations and management and provided a quicker and more satisfactory delivery of service. As expected there were teething problems, some of which led to the departure of nurses who opted not to work with the Board, with the consequence that foreign nurses were engaged to enable the delivery of the required levels of competent patient care. That situation bred its own problems, but they appeared to have been resolved, if not entirely happily.It is therefore more than a little disconcerting that new issues have arisen with both the immediate professionals such as the doctors and the laundry and temporary staffers now up in arms with the QEH management, with close to 100 people from the medical fraternity attending a meeting called by BAMP on Tuesday. On the day before, the NUPW had called a similar meeting with the laundry workers in the same auditorium.The common ground between the three unions is a complaint that management is unilaterally “breaking” age-old employment practices which have become the norm. The BWU is reported as expressing “alarm” at the changes, while BAMP has said it would write the Ministry of Health and the QEH and “decide on action as necessary”.Most ominously the NUPW has put its members on notice that it is prepared to take between 1 000 and 1 500 people off the job and in to meet the chief executive officer if this should become necessary.However one looks at it, this situation is not a satisfactory one. The threat of industrial action, whether it is to be a go slow, work to rule or God forbid, a full fledged withdrawal of labour, is not to be recommended given that the QEH is our only general hospital.In the case of the doctors, if it is indeed in keeping with the previously agreed terms and conditions of service case that vacancies ought to have been “advertised internally” and that “options were to be given to those on the job unless the QEH had problems with them”, then such terms and conditions should not have been broken.There may be good and proper reasons why the disputed changes are contemplated; and if that is so, then there these reasons might easily have been discussed with the unions and employees in advance. Yet, it is never too late to talk in good faith, when the public interest is involved.