OPPOSITION Senator Wade Mark alleged plans to increase working hours at the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) in a question in the Senate on Wednesday, but no official denial or confirmation was forthcoming, although one union told Newsday it seemed a likely move, albeit unwelcome.
Mark alleged the SWRHA had issued a memorandum to alter the working hours of staff from eight to 12 hours per day.
"Can I ask the minister whether he is aware of a memorandum that was issued by the SWRHA, unilaterally altering the hours of work of personnel at that authority from eight hours to 12 hours? Is the minister aware of this memorandum?"
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh replied, "If you could produce the memorandum we will investigate it, but the question as posed...There was no unilateral decision to alter terms and conditions, which is what was asked."
Mark said, "Can the honourable minister share with this House what was the decision that was arrived at? Was it a decision based on consensus? Was there an agreement between the parties, that is the SWRHA and the PSA, to address working hours of personnel within that authority."
Senate President Christine Kangaloo interjected, "Senator Mark I won't allow that question based on the answers the minister has already given."
Mark again began to ask a question about any unilateral decision by the SWRHA, but was cut off by the Senate President.
He asked if any talks were held between parties resulting in any attempt to adjust work hours at the SWRHA, but Kangaloo disallowed the question.
Mark said, "May I ask if negotiations have begun between parties as relates to the alteration of terms and conditions of employment of workers?"
Kangaloo disallowed the question.
PSA president Leroy Baptiste told Newsday he was trying to find out about this matter but had not seen any such memorandum
Registered Nurses Association president Idi Stuart told Newsday said he was not aware of any decision to increase the overall working hours of nurses which he said were fixed at 40 hours per week, but he reckoned the SWRHA was trying to introduce a 12-hour night shift for its staff
– up from a current eight hours
– as now obtains at the other RHAs, all within an overall 40-hour work week.
However, Stuart lamented that staff who were subject to a 12-hour night shift were not given any unsocial hours allowance, such as is enjoyed by nurses working in the UK.
He said this was a flawed policy by RHAs which his association planned to raise at upcoming wage negotiations in March.
"In TT four of the five RHAs have been allowed to increase those working hours to 12, thereby still within the 40-hour work week, but the shift itself places an added burden on the nurse with no added remuneration. So SWRHA is trying to go to that same flawed policy and deny any additional benefit to the worker."
Stuart said overtime rates are advocated in the Minimum Wage Act for someone working beyond eight hours.
"But that doesn't happen in nursing, so that is a challenge, and the association is planning to correct that grave anomaly within our sector at the upcoming wage negotiation."
He said the 12-hour overnight shift had arisen during the 1990 coup attempt and been allowed to continue unchallenged by nurses, who have always tried to facilitate the national interest, even at their own expense.
Newsday tried but was unable to contact SWRHA CEO Dr Brian Armour.
Under the Minimum Wage Act, the Second Schedule of the Minimum Wages Order says overtime is to be paid at a rate of either 1.5, two or three times the normal rate, depending on if it exceeds an eight-hour day, or if it occurs on a Sunday or a public holiday.