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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug.9 ) – Nurses return to work today after the Public Service Commission agreed in writing last night to right salary anomalies identified by the Fiji Nursing Association.

The pact on the salary anomalies was reached at 5pm yesterday but the Fiji Nurses Association refused to sign because one of its grievances, which was related to the Labour Minister's police complaint filed against the union for an illegal strike, was unresolved.

As such, after a full day of meetings, the parties took a break at 6pm and returned to the negotiating table at 8:30pm.

Ten minutes later, the nationwide crisis was resolved because the union agreed to forfeit their request after acknowledging that the matter was beyond the Commission's jurisdiction.

The Memorandum of Agreement that parties signed last night covered 14 grievances.

These included the allowances and the changes to the starting salaries of graduate nurses.

The agreement stipulates that graduate nurses would now begin from $12,325 instead of the $11,584, association president Simione Racolo said.

"It has been a long week," he said. "Five days (of strike action) is long and we are just happy that this has come to an end and the nurses can now return to work."

On their case of illegal strike before police, Mr Racolo said the association's executives were prepared to face the consequences of the illegal strike.

"We have come in good faith with the PSC and agreed to solve this matter once and for all," he said. "But if the Labour Minister wants to pursue, then it is his choice. As long as our members have been given served justice. That was all we wanted for them."

Mr Zinck said was very glad that "good sense has prevailed".

He refused to comment on whether he would withdraw his police complaint.

Health Ministry's chief executive officer Doctor Lepani Waqatakirewa said the nurses new starting salary would be funded from the ministry's coffers. "We have the money to pay the nurses and I know we will manage paying them the higher salary," he said.

As for the 420 nurses who were overpaid, PSC has agreed not to demand a refund. Dr Waqatakirewa said the error, which was an administration one by the PSC, had the nurses overpaid by $40. "This amount will be given back to them in the next two pays with a deduction of $20 for each pay. So for the whole 420 nurses, the ministry will have to pay back to them a total of $700 to $800."

PSC deputy chairman Tom Lee led the Government delegation.

Meanwhile, all the major hospitals were yesterday operating on skeleton staff and nurses who remained at work had started to feel the workload.

In the remote areas, many of the nursing stations and health centres were closed.

The Dreketi Health Centre was one of the few exceptions.

The centre's doctor, Dr Akesh Narayan, commended the centre's two nurses for their commitment in continuing to serve.

He said he would have closed the centre if the nurses had joined the strike.

"I'm just thankful to the two nurses who opted to serve their district rather than join in the strike," Dr Narayan said.

"They felt for the striking nurses and what they are fighting for, but since this is a small health centre people need us here."

The Kia Island nursing station and the Tukavesi Health Centre have been closed since the nurses went on strike last week.

At Savusavu Hospital, the sub-divisional medical officer (Cakaudrove) Dr Mohammed Ishak said they had to recall community health workers to help out.

"But we are still open and hope that the strike would end soon and people will be served better," said Dr Ishak.

The Taveuni Hospital remained open with the help of ward assistants and nursing aides. "We are working a 12-hour shifts but we're lucky in that we have not had any emergency cases," said the sub-divisional medical officer (Macuata) Dr Bale Kurabui

He said most of the nurses who were on strike were on standby in case of emergencies.

Similarly, Labasa Hospital was operating on skeleton staff but the work load was expected to ease a bit today because nursing graduates were rostered to begin work today.

At Nabouwalu Hospital, six nurses and two doctors were manning the hospital.

A staff nurse at the hospital said they were working on a 12-hour shift and beginning to feel the workload.

Nurses serving in the Lau and Kadavu health centres and nursing stations joined the strike.

However, the Ono-i-Lau nursing station had remained open.

Akisi Naituku, the sole nurse at the station, said there had been no serious cases yet at the health centre.

On Kabara, postmaster Samuela Seru said there was only one doctor on the island and he was providing health services to villagers. In Lomaloma, the Lomaloma Hospital's senior divisional medical superintendent Doctor Akuila Naqasima said the hospital had 12 nurses.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

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