Idi Stuart president of the TT Registered Nurses’ Association says nurses should be compensated, like teachers, for their efforts and sacrifices in helping the country deal with the covid19 pandemic. He said it was unfair for the government to make an offer to teachers and not consider a similar offer for nurses.
Stuart spoke to reporters during a lunchtime protest with members of the Public Services Association (PSA) at the Arima General Hospital on Monday. He said, while other public service workers are facing similar issues as nurses, several years have passed and the government has not presented any resolution to any of their 20-plus issues.
He said it was unfair for the government to offer teachers a stipend to work during their vacation so that SEA students can prepare for the August 20 exams, while nurses the cries for a pay increase, payment of gratuities and improved working conditions had fallen on deaf ears.
"We hold no animosity to what teachers would have been offered. What we have an issue with, is teachers didn't even ask for it through their union yet they were offered something and they have rejected it.
"Health care workers have been and still are asking for something and no offer. We are asking for it because we deserve it, especially in this pandemic."
He said nurses were on vacation or heading on vacation and were "shut down" and told to go to work.
"Shouldn't that be compensated? And when this pandemic continues we still wouldn't be able to go out on vacation.
"If the government doesn't want to approve vacation, come July 1, vacation will be approved and all nurses and midwives are expected to be at a location we will announce shortly."
He said 40 per cent of the North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) was employed as temporary staff and many others had not received their gratuity and other benefits. Stuart said nurses deserved a health insurance plan along with death benefits and hazardous allowance.
"They see the need for permanent structures such as the new hospitals but don't see the need for permanent employees... It's also highly disrespectful for the Prime Minister to say compensating health care workers during this pandemic was not on his horizon.
"It's unfair the government continues to use the excuse of a lack of finances and resources to compensate us."
Saying that nurses were unable to get "pandemic leave" like others in the public service, Stuart said nurses had to find "ways and means" to take care of their families.
Hospitals across TT are understaffed but nurses are working to fill the gaps, Stuart said, which is why their contractual agreements must be revised and updated.
"It's nothing new we are asking for. We just want what's due to health officials."
He said nurses would continue with a series of protests at all hospitals across TT. On Wednesday, they are expected to protest at the Port of Spain General Hospital and then at San Fernando General Hospital on Thursday.
National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) Michael Annisette was also at the protest on Monday.
He said, "This is our health care system. We have to utilise this service so we have to make sure this service works properly.
"It's not like what the minister of health would have told me that this is his ministry – no, it's ours. When he out of office in the coming weeks, we would still be here. treat with our issues upfront or you will pay a hell of a price."
PSA representative Ainsley Williams told media he had spoken to NCRHA CEO Davlin Thomas in the past and he said it would have cost the RHA around $21 million for increments and a pension plan for staff. He said Thomas promised staff would be made permanent and a pension plan would be established from January 2020. That didn't happen.
In a recent release, the NCRHA said the plans would be implemented from June 30 but Williams said he did not expect the RHA to live up to that promise either.