From the moment the news broke that Standard 5 teach­ers will receive an additional stipend to prepare students for SEA exams due August 20, 2020, every­one (except possibly the govern­ment) knew that it would have sig­nalled trouble across many sectors of the public service.

The immediate response from the nurses is just the tip of the iceberg. In an election year, the Prime Minister has to be extremely cautious as to how he and the Minister of Health navigate these turbulent industrial relations’ waters that are just ahead.
Towards the end of April, in the hal­lowed halls of Parliament, Dr Roodal Moonilal, Member of Parliament for Oropouche East raised the matter of compensation for frontline healthcare workers after the death of Merlene Placide, head nurse at the Caura Hos­pital.
The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, the “Honourable” Dr Keith Rowley indicated, not only to Dr Moonilal and the national community but also the Trinidad and Tobago Reg­istered Nurses Association (TTRNA), that there was no consideration by his Government at this time to offer any additional compensation in the form of hazard pay or death benefits to healthcare workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TTRNA was seeking a $1mil­lion payout to the families of any nurse who, God forbids, should die during this health pandemic. To many in soci­ety, this was a reasonable request.
In the 2014 Budget Presentation, the People’s Partnership Government committed to the payment of $1mil­lion to the estate of each member of the protective services who should fall in the line of duty. Therefore, the request for the families of nurses was neither vulgar nor outrageous, but in line with the threat factor that law en­forcement agencies experience.

Relief to nurses

It was not a request that would be­come policy ad infinitum, but a policy that sought to provide relief to nurses during this global pandemic. Given the risks to which each exposed them­selves and their families, it was not unreasonable that if one should fall, the State would recognize their ser­vice by giving financial relief to their families.
It was against this background that Dr Roodal Moonilal also raised the issue of compensation for frontline healthcare workers and the rebuff that was received raised questions.
Many recalled the passing of Wayne Chance who headed the NGO, Vision on Mission, and the pledge by the Rowley administration to provide a monthly stipend for each of Wayne Chance’s three children until they reach the age of 18.
What is interesting is that the Min­ister of Social Development and Fam­ily Services, the Honourable Camille Robinson Regis, recognized that “many times persons working with the less fortunate make tremendous personal and professional sacrifices which also impact negatively on their families and following their demise, these families are left to fend for themselves.”
How come when Merlene Placide died in the course of duty during a global pandemic such benevolence was not forthcoming to her estate?
Is it that the Prime Minister of Trin­idad and Tobago and this administra­tion do not recognize the value of the work the nurses and healthcare profes­sionals of Trinidad and Tobago have done during this global pandemic?
Is it that the nurses’ value has di­minished to such an extent that the government has failed to recognize that the nurses made more than tre­mendous and personal sacrifices, which if they had not done, could have created a tragic circumstance in this our country?
All that they are asking for is ad­ditional compensation for placing their lives at risk; a one-off payment for keeping this country safe and the Prime Minister responds that this Government does not run this country by “vaps”.

Feeling Hopeless: Mt Hope Healthcare Workers held a protest last week

Insult to nurses

Is it that the Prime Minister has failed to recognize the contributions made by the nurses, and I dare add doctors and members of the protective services, who placed their lives on the line to keep us safe?
What kind of callous and indiffer­ent leadership do we have at the helm of this country?
I had no intention to raise the sum of money the Minister of Health had considered paying to Rickel Services Limited for two marquee tents. That is a story by itself. But if that is the cost that the Health Minister initially had, then clearly, we are running this country by vaps.
I had no intention to raise the issue of monies being allocated to provide additional security at all the hospitals across the nation; but if you could provide resources to make these pay­ments, how is it that when it comes to nurses who look after the welfare of the sick of the nation, you see pay­ment to these frontline workers as run­ning this country by “vaps”?
No one is begrudging the stipend to be paid to teachers, but how can the Government find more than $­lion to pay teachers who faced no risk during the Covid-19, but could pro­vide not one cent for the nurses?
An assistant teacher, in addition to his or her salary, is being paid a stipend of $400/day; teachers are paid up to $600 per day; the principals are given $900 a day. Yet, after nurses worked assiduously to quell the threat of the coronavirus, consideration to provide a stipend for these nurses is viewed as running this country by “vaps”?
Idi Stuart and the entire TTRNA executive should be removed from of­fice if this insult to nurses is accepted and tolerated from an arrogant Minis­ter of Health.
Every citizen who stood up and ap­plauded when called upon to do so as gratitude for the yeoman service of these frontline workers should protest until this Government tangibly rec­ognizes the work that our healthcare providers gave to us.
I am tempted to say “Nurses’ lives Matter too.”
In April, the Prime Minister con­templated that no additional compen­sation was on the cards for the nurses. My only hope is that before this week is up, due consideration will be given to our Florence Nightingales of the twenty-first century. Maybe the Prime Minister has been too busy with Stu­art Young assisting Delcy Rodriguez and the Venezuelan contingent, who according to him came to Trinidad and Tobago for assistance in dealing with COVID-19, hence the faux pas. Maybe this prevented him from really appreciating the work of our nurses and not recognizing that the pittance they are requesting is way below the service they have provided.

A Cavalier and ruthless government

My advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health is to take the money they were proposing to give to their 1% friends in the private security industry, add some more, much more, and give it to the nurses who truly deserve way in excess to what they are asking and what has been offered to these teachers.
Recognizing our healthcare work­ers is not running our country by “vaps” Mr Prime Minister.
The nurses should view this as a valid reason to withhold their vote for this cavalier and ruthless Government that does not have the interests of our hard-working doctors and nurses at heart. The nurses’ mantra for this dis­respect should be “No Stipend; No Vote” and bring this Government to its senses.