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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug 8) – A showdown looms between the Government and 1300 striking nurses after the State warned that those who do not return to work today risk being fired from their jobs.

But the Fiji Nursing Association says the striking nurses will defy the threat and will not return to work until their grievances are resolved.

Labour Minister Kenneth Zinck said the strike could result in some nurses being fired.

Association general secretary Kuini Lutua said Mr Zinck "must have been joking" if they wanted to risk sacking 1300 nurses.

"That is the old tactic that they always use and this time we will be on strike until all these pending issues are solved the proper way," she said.

Mr Zinck said nurses should have followed the right channels to resolve their grievances. The Government had earlier given nurses an ultimatum to return to work by 10pm on Saturday.

"There are procedures that should have been followed to allow them to air their grievances because the end result of this kind of illegal strike is getting fired," Mr Zinck said.

Mrs Lutua said the nurses have exhausted all channels when they aired their grievances with the Public Service Commission in January but nothing was done.

She said the nurses were fed up with lousy deals made by the Commission over their services, which had been ongoing for the past four years.

Mr Zinck said a meeting between association members and the PSC on Saturday saw 90 per cent of the nurses' demands appro-ved by PSC. But Mrs Lutua said the proposal did not directly address any of the nurses' grievances.

She said more credit needed to be given to nurses for the role that they played in health care.

"The nurses are the ones that provide the services in the hospitals and they are the ones carrying out the heavy load with less pay.

"It is their hard, efficient and good work that have made senior officers happy but no credit is given to them," she said.

Commission deputy chief executive Tom Lee said they wanted the nurses to return to work as soon as possible before the negotiations continued.

"The main thing that we are concerned about is having the nurses return to work because we cannot negotiate when the strike is illegal," he said.

Mr Lee said the nurses strike denied the public of essential health services.

He said if the nurses did not return to work today, PSC would have to refer the case to compulsory tribunal tomorrow. He said PSC gave association executives a proposed draft agreement on their grievances on Saturday but had not received any reaction to the proposal.

Mrs Lutua said they were still working on the proposal and there could be further meetings with the commission today.

She said nurses would not return to work until PSC addressed grievances.

"All these decisions rests with the PSC because every year we have to go to arbitration to resolve the cases for us. I do not know what PSC is doing since they are supposed to be the employer.

"If they are a good employer, they should try to solve the issue by making a decision instead of taking the matter to arbitration," she said.

Mr Lee said the overpayment of wages to the nurses was a genuine mistake that was conducted by their officers.

"But we have been following the Government policy in recovering such payments by surcharging the officer who had received the amount.

"If the person no longer works for the Government, then the officer who had conducted the paperwork would be surcharged," he said.

Mr Lee the first thing the commission would do once the nurses return to work was dock their pay for the days they did not go to work.

Mrs Lutua said docking of pay for the nurses was not a new issue but the solving and addressing of their grievances was something that should be looked into seriously by the Government.

Health ministry chief executive Doctor Lepani Waqatakirewa warned the nurses to return to work because their strike was illegal.

"The nurses had asked for a peaceful strike for three hours on Thursday but after it was approved they have been out since then," he said. He said the association had applied for a 28 days notice and then walked out of their jobs two days after filing for their notice.

Dr Waqatakirewa said they had 47 per cent of nurses and students nurses working in the hospital since the strike last week.

"Luckily, there were 158 new graduate nurses last week that have been holding the fort and that is why we have been coping with the shortage of staff," he said.

He said it was unfair for the nurses to unnecessarily penalise the patients while going on strike.

Mrs Lutua said the graduate nurses are on a one year intern and should be supervised by a fully fledged nurse.

"There should be close supervision by the fully fledged nurses because if anything goes wrong, the experienced nurse would be held accountable.

"We do not know who would be held accountable, if the intern nurses do something wrong," she said.

She said the new graduates were all members of the association and they could call them to support the strike at any time.

However, Director of Public Prosecutions Josaia Naigulevu said they have received a complaint from the Labour ministry on the strike on Friday and it has been referred to the police.

He said they would have to see the result of the investigations by the Police before deciding whether the charges should be laid or not.

August 8, 2005

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