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Cuba agrees to pull nurses

The Herald, 26 may 2000

JOHN'S, Antigua - The Cuban government Friday is said to have agreed to remove its nurses from working a shift at the state-run Holberton Hospital as Antigua nurses have gone on strike over increased pay.

The 30 nurses, brought here along with other medical professionals to beef up the delivery of local health care services, are currently on an orientation exercise, but hospital authorities had hoped to use them to cushion the effect of the two-day old strike.

Opposition leader Baldwin Spencer is said to have called the Cuban Embassy in Barbados expressing concern that the Cuban nurses were being used to break the strike.

A senior foreign ministry official subsequently confirmed that the Cuban nurses were expected to be pulled off the job and returned to their residence.

Health authorities here are now beginning to feel the effects of the strike by the nurses who have also expressed concern over the ability of the Cubans to fit into the local health care system. Only emergency surgery is being performed.

Earlier, a bus carrying the Cuban nurses was prevented from entering the compound of the hospital but they later entered through a hole at the back fence of the hospital.

A petition containing the names of over 200 nurses, nursing assistants and ward assistants was delivered to the Prime Minister's office seeking his urgent intervention to have the matter settled immediately.

The local nurses want government to urgently reclassify their status in the civil service and upgrade their salaries.

Government promises to complete the process at its Cabinet meeting next week.

Contingency measures to deal with the effects of the strike are the discharging of some patients, and the merging of wards being manned by the limited staff that, with the pulling off of the Cuban nurses, only now include ward sisters and doctors.

Operations at the hospital were manned by a skeleton staff during Tuesday and Wednesday's work-stoppages but with a full-scale strike now on, the health minister Bernard Percival said he has asked the Permanent Secretary of the Health Ministry to persuade the ABNA President Sister-Tutor Elnora Warner "re-think her position".

While optimistic that the matter would be resolved shortly, the Health Ministry plans to discuss possible contingency plans to ensure patient-care should the strike drag on.

Government believed that the industrial action violated set procedures and regulations as the required notice was not given. The ABNA has, however, said that a 21-day notice expired last week Wednesday.

In response to a letter by the ABNA President outlining a number of grievances, the Chief Establishment Officer has responded, inviting them to a meeting Monday to discuss their concerns.

Copyright National Union of Government & Federated Workers
145-147 Henry Street
Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Tel: (868) 623-4591
Fax: (868) 625-7756
E-mail: headoffice@nugfw.org.tt