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EDITORIAL COMMENT Fiji Times January 7, 2000

It is tragic that the nurses' dispute has been allowed to escalate into what now looks like becoming a full-blown strike.

This will be damaging to all concerned -- the hospital system, the patients, the Government and the nurses themselves, who stand to lose significant sums of money in sacrificed pay.

Indeed the money lost by striking workers can take many months or even years to be fully recovered by any pay increase.

But the nurses are fighting for their future here.

They are convinced that their cause is just and that they have been mistreated by the Government.

Whether they are right or wrong in that, they have very significant public support, which the Minister of Health and the Government as a whole would be foolish to underestimate.

And amid all the threats, the double-talk, the posturing and deliberate delay everyone concerned knows that there will be a solution to this dispute.

There has to be.

At some stage the nurses will return to work with or without an improved package though it's difficult at this stage to imagine that the Government would starve them back to the wards.

At the same time, the Government has little room in which to move.

Other public sector unions, most notably the teachers, are already on the starting blocks for their own industrial sprints and will be watching closely for any hint of indecision in the Cabinet ranks.

And, as far as the nurses' dispute is concerned, Cabinet has been unusually incoherent.

Social Services Minister and former nursing union leader Lavinia Padarath has been "working behind the scenes" while the Health Minister, Dr. Isimeli Cokanasiga, may well have been doing the same.

Neither has had much effect.

The Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, has so far contented himself with a request that the nurses end their overtime ban.

But someone needs to take a lead here if a painful strike is to be avoided.

The Prime Minister, a seasoned and skilled trade unionist, should bring his undoubted abilities to bear, override his line ministers and end the indecision.

The alternative is a bitter strike that has huge potential to damage his government as well as the nation.

Everybody knows there will have to be a settlement. But do we really have to endure a strike to reach one?

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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