Submitted by Tee White
On 17 January, striking nurses from the Unity Workers Union once again took the streets of the capital Bridgetown to press their demands that the government address their long held grievances and abandon its attempts to starve them into surrender. United with one voice behind their slogans of ‘No retreat, no surrender’ and ‘Touch one, touch all’ the nurses marched from Cheapside to the newly opened Golden Square Park which commemorates the struggles of a previous generation of fighting workers from the people’s rebellion of 1937. Many onlookers expressed their support for the striking nurses, condemned the government for ‘unfairing the nurses’ and demanded that they address the nurses’ longstanding grievances. One of the striking nurses, who has worked in the health care system for over 14 years was interviewed. The interview is presented below.
Can you tell us why you are here today? Why are you marching today?
So, today I am marching because of the different grievances that have been ongoing and current things that have taken place within the nursing fraternity. Mainly the straw that you can say broke the camel’s back was the safe zones that were brought up and then we heard, “oh, it wasn’t ready”. But we know it’s just a matter of time before that comes back. How could it be right that a nurse could not work for 14 months? I thought I had heard incorrect. 14 months? That is a year and two months. Who will do that? I mean, I, myself, when I first started, I worked three months without pay. I had to wait three months so I can understand but I honestly, lots of things that were happening because the institutions, you don’t know everything that’s going on at different institutions, I could not believe it. I could not believe that at a healthcare institution, at a hospital, they would not be phones on a ward, that nurses are using their cell phones to call doctors, or the nurses would have to walk across a yard day or nighttime. No, man, this is Barbados. It’s ridiculous. Nurses are using or re-using things like NG tubes. I am sorry, but I wouldn’t want that for my relatives. And I cannot condone that. If you can find money to do all kind of other things, why can’t you find money to do what is important and you say that you care about the health of our nation? That says something different to me. That’s just some of the things, but there, there are more issues, but enough is enough. It’s time that we take a stand.
I think by nature, nurses try to accommodate everybody. But what are you doing to your colleagues who are going all of this time with families and can’t support them? It hard for people who get paid every month, furthermore for people who ain’t get paid for a long time. It is ridiculous. Something has to be done about it. And that’s why I’m here today to lend my support. I mean, it’s not happening to me personally, but if my colleague is hurt, we have to work as a team. If my colleague is hurt, I will feel that pain. I think that in the workplace, it is toxic, for lack of a better word. I think the workplaces are toxic and people would just give you lip service, but they’re not doing anything. They just putting on makeup on a face full of pimples. So that’s why I’m here today to lend support and demand that change comes about. We are not unreasonable. We know that you can’t meet all of the grievances that we have, but you have to start somewhere. And the mere fact that you met with taxi people, but up to know, you have not met to see what’s going on to see how you will bring resolution or redress. I think it is ridiculous.
The government said they will talk to you, but first you have to call off the strike. What do you think about that?
No. So does that make sense? You can talk to me after I call off the strike. So if you give me things that are not in agreement with me, I already gone back to work. So that makes no sense? Nobody with common sense would do that. No, no. You meet with me. You meet with the representative, the general secretary, and we tell the general secretary what we want. So when you meet with him and he brings back what your proposals are, we will say, we agree with this, or we don’t agree with this. For me to stop striking and go back to work that means I surrender and I say all is well. And all is not well.
So you know this is the election time. We got an election coming up on Wednesday. As a nurse, who’s involved in this struggle for your rights as nurses and to protect the patients as well, do you have any message to send to either the existing government or whoever should be the new government when they come in after Wednesday?
Whoever comes, whoever wins, I know that their job will be difficult, but if you understand the pandemic that we are in, you have to make your nurses comfortable. Comfortable workers have good production. So that’s what you need to do. I know that everything will not be able to be done at one time, but you have to prioritize what is important. So we will see.