SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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Although Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has promised to pay nurses their outstanding increments, the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) says it will go ahead with Wednesday’s mass protest.

In an interview with Guardian Media on Monday, TTRNA president Idi Stuart was hesitant to reveal exactly what increments would be paid or the timeline for payment, saying the association wants to wait until Wednesday to reveal that information to its membership.

But Stuart also said that while ‘certain’ promises were made, the TTRNA has not received anything in writing from the Ministry.

“The ministry has put out an olive branch as it were, nothing has been resolved, we will be waiting for black and white documents,” Stuart said.

He said after the official announcement has been made on Wednesday, the association will be checking in with nurses to see whether the Ministry and the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) are keeping to their word.

“There has been one positive that has come out of this and we would want to commend the Minister of Health about his promises on increments owed. We want to remind the public that we are working on 2013 salaries and even those 2013 salaries are not up to date. Certain commitments were made, which we will inform our members on July 1 on what those commitments are and we are asking our members to let us know if it is actually happening at the RHAs.”

Stuart said the hiring of nurses in temporary positions was another issue addressed during the meeting.

He said nurses are being made to carry out the same duties as their permanent counterparts, without any of the benefits or stability of a permanent position.

“We made it clear through our lawyers that you can’t have persons working along with each other with the same job titles, yet being offered different remuneration packages- temporary workers enjoy no gratuity, no pension, they don’t enjoy the stability of permanent employment-we went through that in detail and they said they will take specific steps to rectify that.”

On their call for health insurance, hazard pay and death benefits, Stuart said Deyalsingh has maintained that those issues are before the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO.) But that excuse is no longer enough for the association, he said.

“The CPO is guided by the Parliament and we would like to hear from the Parliament if they are considering health insurance, hazard allowance and death benefits. On July 1 we will be asking our members what they would want to happen going forward to drive home to the Cabinet that this is important to us,” Stuart said.

He said with the protest going ahead as planned, he is asking the public to be understanding to the plight of nurses.

And despite the association’s meeting with Deyalsingh, Stuart said the protest could have been avoided altogether if nurses were treated months ago.

“All of these protests and demonstrations could have been avoided if the Ministry saw it fit to include one of the largest stakeholders in the health care system in the decision-making process.”

Looking ahead to the 2020 General Election, Stuart said the association plans to do some ’screening’ of its own.

“We don’t want to go through this ever again where the minister of health don’t see it important to include the stakeholders so we will be writing to all political parties and asking them who are their Ministers of Health and we would advise our members accordingly who we prefer to work with,” Stuart said.

The mass protest is carded to start at 8 am on Wednesday at the Queen’s Park Savannah and finish at the Ministry of Health’s headquarters on Park Street.