B'dos union distances itself from planned strike
Wayne Walrond
Denies giving green light for sickout by COVID-19 essential workers

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The island's largest public sector trade union has distanced itself from a social media post that calls for COVID-19 front line and essential workers to stage a sickout on Wednesday.

In a statement posted several times on the Facebook page of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which represents nurses and other workers in the public health care sector, Acting General Secretary Wayne Walrond sought to disassociate the union from any industrial action.

“While the social media post purported to have been sent by one of our industrial relations officers, there has been no sanction or authorisation of any industrial action from the National Council of the NUPW,” he said in the post on Sunday.

“The NUPW is cognisant of the sacrifices being made by workers and the personal and professional challenges this time presents especially to our members in the health sector.

“We assure our members and all workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight that all representation made on their behalf will be done in a responsible, structured and organised manner allowing their full participation in the process,” Walrond added.

The post in question had lamented health care workers' heavy workload and lack of remuneration.

“Enough is enough! Since you are overlooked let the powers that be run the place without us. Unity is in numbers! Wednesday… call in sick…,” it stated.

The post, as well as a petition circulating about the need for hazard pay for health care workers, had also triggered a reaction from the State-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).

Executive chairman of the QEH, Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland, issued a statement on behalf of the board and management of the hospital, saying that efforts were being made to get outstanding hazard pay to staff.

In November 2020, Government allocated supplementary funds for the payment of hazard pay to QEH front line staff working at isolation centres, the Accident and Emergency Department and the Emergency Ambulance Service. However, that supplementary was needed to replenish resources spent on COVID-19 and projection of costs through to the end of the financial year.

Bynoe-Sutherland pointed out that by December, more than BDS$14.5 million (US$7.25 million) in additional expenses had been spent in COVID-19 expenditure directly from the QEH budget to finance equipment and operations at isolation centres and the QEH.

“In anticipation of the receipt of available finances, the QEH consulted with all of our trade union partners on the payment of hazard pay and staff were asked to await the injection of funds to make the necessary payments. To address our financial needs, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance would have convened a meeting on Monday, January 4, 2021, with the Ministry of Finance, Treasury and Ministry of Health,” she explained.

“It has been indicated to the QEH by the Ministry of Finance that the awaited supplementary funds should be available no later than the middle of this month as national developments have slowed the pace of dispersal. In fact, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance hoped that they could have transferred the funds last Friday and we remain confident of its soon receipt to make the payment.

“We hope to continue good relations with our staff and trade union partners as together we work cooperatively to face this national threat,” the QEH chairman added.

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