[Documents menu] Documents menu

Striking nurses block Cuban nurses

The Herald, 27 May 2000

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua - Despite assurances by government that a pay dispute with nurses would be resolved next week, over 100 of the striking health care workers Friday prevented a bus carrying Cuban nurses from entering the Holberton hospital.

The striking nurses claimed that as a contingency measure to cushion the effects of the now two-day old strike, a 12-hour shift is said to be worked out for the Cuban nurses to man operations at the Holberton Hospital and some patients have been discharged to ease the work-load.

Those measures have not yet been independently confirmed from hospital authorities.

Health Minister Bernard Percival has said that if the strike dragged on, doctors would be asked to go the extra-mile as government was concerned about patient-care.

From as early as 6:30 a.m. (East Caribbean Time), the nurses lined both sides of the driveway leading to the hospital entrance as they sang hymns. And shortly after 7 a.m., when the bus ferrying the Cuban nurses arrived, the local nurses blocked the driveway, forcing the bus to turn back.

Mostly senior police officers and policemen in civilian clothes kept a watchful eye but none of the nurses, nursing assistants or ward assistants was arrested.

Speaking from the picket line, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA) Elnora Warner said the decision to block the Cuban nurses was because the government-employed nurses felt that deploying the Cubans amid strike action constituted a threat. "What they have done in going to get the Cubans has an underlying tone of threatening the nurses. They feel that eventually they are going to be replaced by Cuban nurses," she told the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) in a brief interview from the picket line.

Percival expressed regret that the ABNA was dragging the Cuban nurses into the dispute.

Asked why the nurses were stepping up the pressure despite the fact that the Health Minister has assured that Cabinet was moving to complete reclassification of the nurses within the civil service and upgrade their salaries at next Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, Warner said "we don't even know what words to take from the Ministry."

The Permanent Secretary of the Health Ministry has been instructed to appeal to the ABNA President to cease industrial action in light of the adverse impact it is having.

The Health Ministry has also accused the nurses of staging an illegal strike because the required procedures for industrial action were not followed. The nurses, however, said that a 21-day notice of industrial action expired last week Wednesday.

Percival has dismissed claims by the nurses that government has been foot-dragging on ABNA proposals for the reclassification of the nurses and upgrading of their salaries, adding that it was only in April that the proposals accompanied by recommendations were dispatched from the Civil Service Ministry to Cabinet.

Cabinet has since set up a committee to examine the proposals and recommendations.

In the state-run health sector, currently a departmental sister is said to be earning between EC$2,622.47; a ward sister EC$2,343.09; a staff nurse (one) EC$2,120.14 and a staff nurse (two) EC$1,932.47. The ABNA is proposing under the reclassification process that general-trained nurses earn a gross of EC$2,783 and a departmental ward sister earn a gross of EC$3,432.