Nurses awaiting verdict
The Editor, Sir:
The year 2009 could be considered a very turbulent period in the lives of many registered nurses. Many individuals, both locally and abroad, would have witnessed this group of nurses campaigning and agitating, in most instances, for a bigger 'share of the economic pie'.
With a measly salary increase (totalling 39 per cent) being granted by the Government between 2000 and 2008, these nurses were finding it very difficult to cope amid the gripping economic climate. To make matters worse, a significant number of nurses have been repaying loans with monthly instalments exceeding their basic pay. This comes about following the Government's decision, a few years ago, to withdraw funding for the training of nurses in the basic Registered General Nursing Programme.
Except for a few sponsored Ministry of Health employees, the vast majority of student nurses are currently paying in excess of a million dollars for their tuition fees. Graduate registered nurses (RNs) would have expected to be remunerated in a manner commensurate with their training and professional responsibilities.
The 'reclassification exercise' was considered the main avenue by which RNs could receive a respectable salary. These nurses were optimistic about the outcome since they have been grossly underpaid in Jamaica for decades. The Jones' Report in 1999-2000 attempted to correct this situation with recommendations which were intended to bring more equity in the remuneration of health-sector employees. Figures which were recommended to bring RNs up to the equity line (pay according to worth) were never fully implemented. Other militating factors, such as a cyclic change in salary negotiations (three-year instead of two-year contracts) and the undermining of the role of professional nurses by some individuals would have influenced the low salaries currently being received.
Arising out of the hard battle fought for a respectable pay package in 2009, RNs were hastily referred to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT). After four sessions, which ended on December 9, 2009, the judiciary is yet to make a ruling.
The Government's ability to pay has been postulated by its representatives as a factor worthy of consideration regarding the IDT's ruling.
How many of these officials realise the disparity which exists between the salaries of professional nurses in Jamaica and their professional counterparts, both regionally and abroad?
Are these officials fully aware that RNs remain one
of the most marketable groups of workers globally?
In addition, to what extent are we cognisant that access to health care is also significantly dependent on quality staff, including our most qualified nurses?
During the process of a cost-benefit analysis, we all need to critically examine the pros and cons.
While registered nurses await the judge's verdict, it is imperative that rationality prevails.
I am, etc.,