‘Fed up’ Linden nurses protest outside Parliament for gratuity

Linden nurses yesterday protested outside the National Assembly for their gratuity payments from the Ministry of Health and accused their union of abandoning them, something the GPSU later denied.

Yesterday morning, 75 nurses and health care professionals from the Linden Hospital Complex went on strike and some made their way to a picket line outside of Parliament demanding to know why the Health Ministry has repeatedly denied gratuity payments.

Nurses on the picket line
Nurses on the picket line

Shonette Lynn, a registered nurse from the Linden Hospital spoke on behalf of the strikers and told Stabroek News that the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the Ministry of Health have both “eye pass” workers.

“Since Monday [April 2nd] the union representative was talking to the President himself, and we were told we were getting our gratuity on Friday,” Lynn lamented. She said that the GPSU for the past two weeks had been working with the nurses to devise a course of action but she said that nothing ever materialised and time and time again this was the issue with the union and the ministry.

Lynn said that on Tuesday, nurses spoke with the GPSU. “We talked to them and the union was telling us that whatever action we take they are going to stand behind us and they are with us. Then this morning we proceeded to take this industrial action and the union telling us not to do this”, she said.  Lynn stated that the union had advised the nurses against picketing in Georgetown however the nurses were fed up of being told that the union would represent their interests only to later find out that the union was not acting aggressively.

Nurses stated that since Friday last they were promised that their gratuity would be paid out and were told yesterday that the monies would be paid by 4:00pm but that did not happen.

Maurice Butters from the GPSU had advised the nurses to remain in Linden telling them that the problem would be resolved by the 4:00pm deadline.

Butters told Stabroek News yesterday that the union was working for the nurses. He said that “the only reason we told them to hold off on action was because discussions had reached a level of engagement between the union and the ministry”. He added that “I understand their level of frustration, they have been getting promises since last week, they were told they were being paid then we met with the Deputy Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Health who said last Friday (that) money would be paid and then nothing again.”

Butters said that the union was advised by the ministry to “talk to them [nurses] and ask who was in the most dire need and they would get their gratuity first which was the one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard so it was rejected”. He said that the Ministry of Health was in talks with the finance ministry to get the money paid out quickly but that both the nurses and the union were being pushed around because the Wednesday 4:00pm deadline was once again ignored.

Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran described the matter as  “a simple administrative matter” when the issue was addressed in parliament. Ramsaran said “the nurses do know and many of them understand that because of that administrative glitch it will be paid shortly.”

He refused to speak to the 20-plus nurses who made their way to Georgetown and asserted that the issue should never have made its way to the National Assembly stating that the opposition was using it as a way to “gain some attention.”

Gratuity is comprised of 22.5 percent of a nurse’s basic monthly salary and is paid out twice a year to contract employees who do not contribute to pensions. The ministry has said that currently only $1M is available to pay out gratuities to the health care professionals although on Friday the ministry had promised nurses that $3M would be paid out. On top of being denied their gratuity payments nurses also said that since 2010 the health ministry has been cutting into gratuity payments for sick leave over 28 days and maternity leave.

Nurses were frustrated, telling Stabroek News that “everyone is playing the blame game, the union, the ministry”. One nurse who was picketing outside Parliament said that “the ministry is saying that they only have $1M, where is the other $6M, listen a budget is done every years they had to have budgeted for our gratuity so where is it,” she asked. Yet another nurse said that “they are stalling they don’t want to pay us and they can’t give an honest answer as to why they don’t want to give us this money…people have rent, people have kids, we have to buy food, transportation, we have living expenses and rely on the gratuity.”

The strikers all stated that no nurse was returning to work until payments were made. Since Friday, nurses began unofficially refusing to go to work until the ministry corrects the situation.

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