Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Treat the nurses right

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Our nurses should be treated properly. It is totally unacceptable that the Government is reneging on a signed agreement to pay nurses salary increases that were due from 2007 and delaying on a ruling of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT).

The Government has signed a contract and this should be honoured. If we cannot respect a contract with the Government, then we are on the road of anarchy. We are devaluing the importance of contracts when we do not honour them or allow a governor of a bank to operate without one for four months. Whose contract is valid?

But where is the money to come from to pay the nurses? The expense should be borne by the society and not the nurses. The concept of insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual's misfortune - illness, death, fire, floods - across society. And likewise the cost of free health care, which is free government insurance, should not be borne by nurses and other health professionals only. The Golding administration's free health care has cost $5 billion and that money could have been paid to the nurses and allow the Govern-ment to honour the contract.

Recently, the wealthiest economy in the world, the United States of America passed a bill for universal health care for its citizens and this law will be phased in over a few years, not immediately, as was done in Jamaica. Furthermore, the additional cost will be met primarily by taxes on insurance providers. However, in Jamaica, few persons cared about who was going to fund our free health care. But now we know that it is the nurses' wages and benefits that are funding the free heath care.

Extra respect

The nurses should be treated with extra respect from this Government in relation to salary because, while in Opposition, Audley Shaw, now honourable minister of finance, said that nurses' salaries should be doubled, claiming, "I would like to give the commitment, that as minister of finance, that would be the starting position."

And sadly, the Government is doing a similar thing with teachers in that the teachers are being asked to subsidise the Government's policy on free education. The teachers' salary increases, as agreed, are apparently being diverted to cover the cost of free tuition.

The Government in the upcoming Budget exercise ought to allow those who can pay or contribute to the health and education fees, to do so. And those who cannot afford the fees be helped by the State. And how could the Government increase the allocation to members of parliament and increase the number of constituencies when we cannot fulfil the legitimate claims of nurses, teachers and the police?

The treatment of nurses borders on being callous and yet we expect them to perform at their optimum. The health sector is having serious problems and with the serious drought being experienced, and with the garbage not being collected as per usual and health suppliers withdrawing services because of non-payment of bills, it does not need a physician to perceive that the health sector is critically ill and needs urgent life-saving surgery.

CRUCIFIXION

And trade unionist Lambert Brown added to the bad treatment of nurses when he raised the issue about the nurses not accepting the money from the original date and opting to negotiate separately. That was a most unfortunate and unnecessary comment. Even if the nurses made a strategic mistake, it does not affect the price of bread. The nurses have a signed agreement with the Government and it should be honoured.

I also saw a televised comedy show putting the Nurses Association of Jamaica president to ridicule because of her many wigs. How come those comedians never stigmatise well known men who dye their hair?

The nurses are experiencing a crucifixion, let's hope there will be a resurrection for them next week.

Have a peaceful and holy Easter.

Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church and author of 'The Cross and the Machete: Native Baptists of Jamaica - Identity, Ministry and Legacy'. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com