The Guyana Public Service Union today gave the Government a two-week ultimatum to wrap up negotiations on the demands being made by nurses and other healthcare workers in the public sector.
The nurses are pushing for increased risk allowances, improved salaries and additional protective gear as they remain on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
But while the government has started discussions with the representatives for the nurses and the Georgetown Hospital, President Irfaan Ali want the nurses and health care workers to realise that their demands must also take into account the current reality of the economy.
In an interview with News Source, the President said “when you look at the nurses, you have to look at it in a holistic manner in relation to what is taking place in our economy and you have the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. There are clearly established criteria, protocol and guidelines as to how the nurses could have approached whatever issues they have. None of those protocols or guidelines or the law…the law was broken”.
The President said the nurses stand to benefit from more than just the $150 million that has been set aside in the budget for them. He reminded that every household will benefit from the $25,000 COVID-19 relief package and other budget measures.
But when pressed by News Source about immediate steps to address the immediate concerns of nurses and to meet their demands, the President said the Government cannot just look at the immediate needs of the nurses alone.
“As a government, we have to look at the immediate needs of all of Guyana, we have to look at the medium term needs and the long term needs and then we have to plan and forecast based on affordability, based on immediate revenue streams and medium term revenue streams and longterm revenue streams, and that is the difference between running a government, because you have to understand the complexity of the issue and you have to understand that it is not a singular variable that you have to look at”, he said.
Nurses at the Georgetown Hospital have been protesting almost daily during the lunch hour in their efforts to press the government and the hospital’s management to look into their concerns and demands.
While recognising the role nurses have been playing during the ongoing pandemic, the President said as essential workers the nurses should also understand the critical need for essential workers “and the question we have to ask, is how do you deal with essential workers like the nurses breaching the law and operating outside of the law”.
The President said he agrees with his Attorney General’s recent statement reminding nurses and other health workers of the terms of their contract and the consequences attached to breaching those terms. He said he did not see the Attorney General’s statement as any threat.
Union officials and the nurses themselves have accused the Attorney General of threatening the livelihoods of the nurses, rather than encouraging the settling of their dispute.