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Attorney General warns of criminal charges, dismissals if GPHC nurses continue industrial unrest

In the wake of a sick out by several nurses of the Georgetown Public Hospital for increased salaries and COVID-19 risk allowances, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall on Friday said COVID-19 patients could die and he warned the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) that if the industrial unrest continues people could be charged and workers could even be fired.

“Unless these protest actions cease immediately and the procedures outlined by the law are invoked, the Government will have no alternative but to consider certain options, including but not limited to, the institution of criminal charges, dismissal, termination of contracts of employment, suspension of the collective labor agreement with the GPSU and the suspension of the deduction of Union dues for and on behalf of the Union,” Mr. Nandlall told GPSU President Patrick Yarde in a letter.

So far the nurses have held four days of one hour to 90 minutes picketing exercises outside the GPHC. Similar protests have been held at other government-owned hospitals countrywide. On Friday night, at least 15 to 20 nurses reported sick. GPHC Chief Executive Officer, Retired Brigadier Lewis declined to say how many nurses were off the job, but he said “the GPHC continues to provide service to our patients despite the absence of some nurses.”

Mr. Yarde on Thursday said that if government does not respond positively to the union’s request for talks, nurses would embark on a full-scale strike from Tuesday. Reacting, the Attorney General said there is no evidence that the relevant steps under the Public Utility Undertakings and Public Health Services Arbitration Act have not been followed and that offenders could face up to two months imprisonment and a GYD$30,000 fine without following the relevant procedure. If the offence continues, the law states that the offenders will be charged at least GYD$1,000 for every day of the violation. He noted that the Essential Services Act also applies in this industrial dispute.

The Attorney General cautioned that the industrial action at the time of the coronavirus pandemic could amount to a crime. “To violate this internationally recognize norm in industrial practice at a time when our nation and indeed world, is facing the worst pandemic in living history amounts to a most cruel, inhuman and unusual abdication of responsibility and may be viewed as conduct amounting to criminal negligence. That citizens may die as a result of the GPSU’s actions, cannot have escaped you,” he said.