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GPSU, gov’t make progress in resolving some nurses’ concerns -Dr. Westford

Dr. Jennifer Westford

Government advisor, Dr. Jennifer Westford on Wednesday night said a joint committee with the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has been making progress in resolving several issues that are facing nurses but she acknowledged that the demand for COVID-19 risk allowances to be paid to all nurses has not been resolved.

“The real issues they were complaining of, I have not found any so far as being unrealistic. Most of them were genuine issues they were complaining of and most of them have been resolved and the others are in the process of being resolved,” she said.

Dr. Westford said the accord provides for the workers to “put on hold” their industrial action, but she said she was unaware of a time-limit as the two sides are working to resolve a number of the issues in the “short term.” She said a joint committee of government and union representatives was continuing meetings and so far decisions have been taken to improve infrastructure in the coming weeks and provide adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

On the thorny issue of the COVID-19 risk allowances for all nurses, she said already many of them are receiving that emolument based on the infectious diseases that they are directly exposed to. “Maybe, those who are not in receipt of it are hoping to get too. There are a lots of categories that are already in receipt of it but some of them, who are not in receipt, want to be deemed frontline workers but in this instance the frontline workers are specific to the pandemic that is happening now,” she told News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online News. She said the discussions would consider suggestions by the nurses in addressing this demand.

Up to Wednesday night, the GPSU did not issue a promised statement or hold a press conference.

But the former public service minister, who was accompanied by top union officials on a fact-finding mission to several hospitals across Guyana, said those meetings were beneficial in understanding the plight facing the healthcare workers. “We have had favourable responses so far based on the areas we have touched. They are the people who have the issues and every institution you go to, they have different issues that they feel legitimise them coming out and they needed to be sorted out and some of them were sorted out on the ground,” she said.

Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony welcomed the breakthrough in the talks that led to the calling off of a strike that had been planned for Wednesday. “I am really happy that decision was made and that we will work to resolve whatever issues come up and we can do that in a very cordial way because all of us want the best for our healthcare workers and we have to work together to improve the system,” he was quoted as saying by the government’s information department.

He credited many of those healthcare workers with going “beyond the call of duty trying to make sure that patients are cared for.” Moving forward, Dr. Anthony said he expects cordial deliberations to take place as the Government continues to augment measures to ensure that healthcare professionals, and other frontline workers, are given the requisite gear to deliver the best service.

More than 250 health workers employed at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, who work directly with COVID-19 patients have been receiving risk allowances from a tranche of GYD$150 million.