Nurses and other healthcare workers can look forward to significant improvement in their livelihood under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration, President Dr Irfaan Ali has assured.
“I want to assure the nurses that within our five-year term, they will see a monumental improvement not only in their salaries and benefits but in their overall livelihood and in their overall quality of life. We’re here just over 65 days and we have a five-year agenda,” the Head of State declared.
He was at the time being interviewed by local journalist Gordon Moseley.
Over the past week, nurses and other healthcare workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic have been protesting, calling for increased risk allowance and better conditions.
The nurses, specifically from the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) have been led by several A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change members and Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) officials in their protests in recent days.
But President Ali on Wednesday said that the issue has to be looked at in a holistic manner in relation to the current state of the country’s economy.
He noted that frontline workers are not only benefitting from the $150 million that was set aside in the 2020 Emergency Budget but also other measures aimed at relieving the burden of every Guyanese such as the $25,000 cash grant and the removal of VAT on electricity and water, among others.
President Ali explained that there are some specific commitments that the PPP/C made in its manifesto regarding nurses and healthcare workers, among all other categories of workers, and they will work to ensure these are fulfilled during his tenure.
In fact, he noted that the issue of wages and salaries is currently being considered in preparations for Budget 2021.
“Whilst we know [the nurses] are operating in the COVID environment – just like every other frontline worker and there is greater risk, and we appreciate that, we have to work within the confines of the economy. I want to assure the nurses that this government is committed towards ensuring our promises and commitment to them over the five-year period is realised. I can assure them that their lives and their families’ lives is gonna improve tremendously,” President Ali promised.
He however contended that the nurses have to understand the context under which the government is operating, in that, it has to act in accordance with affordability based on immediate, medium- and long-term needs and revenue streams.
He said the workers have to be fair and cannot continue to flout the law.
“We cannot deny that the workers are doing a tremendous job… but how do you deal with essential workers like the nurses breaching the law and operation outside of the law?… These laws and guidelines are there not for fashion but because it is recognised that certain services are essential to the public good and essential to maintaining life,” the President assured.
Essential Services Arbitration Act Chapter 54:01 provides a procedure for the settlement of disputes in public utility and certain services and prohibits strikes and lockouts in such undertakings and services.
Against this backdrop, Attorney General Anil Nandlall has since written to the GPSU indicating that the protest actions are illegal and unlawful, and cautioned that persons engaged acts contrary to these provisions commits a criminal offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine or imprisonment.
President Ali on Wednesday defended the position of AG Nandlall, dismissing claims that it was threat.
“They were in breach of the law, and we were reminding them that they were in breach of the law and they continue to be in breach of the law. So the Attorney General had a legal responsibility of reminding them of what the law says. And you may turn the question around, is it the right time for our frontline workers to breach the law and to come out and protest in the middle of the pandemic when they know that their services are not only essential but vital to the existence of the people,” the Head of State asserted.
In the meantime, Government is currently engaging the GPSU in talks to address the issues of the nurses.
On Wednesday, the Union indicated that it will call off their planned strike action and give the government two weeks to address the issue.