It's not a game show, premier

Peter
Peter Jackson
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

In his 1971 film "Bananas," Woody Allen plays a mild-mannered New Yorker who gets caught up in a revolution in the fictional South American country of San Marcos.

In one scene, Allen and fellow rebels are celebrating their victorious overthrow of the government when their newly chosen leader begins his inaugural speech to the people.

In his 1971 film "Bananas," Woody Allen plays a mild-mannered New Yorker who gets caught up in a revolution in the fictional South American country of San Marcos.

In one scene, Allen and fellow rebels are celebrating their victorious overthrow of the government when their newly chosen leader begins his inaugural speech to the people.

"From now on," he says, "the official language of San Marco will be Swedish."

The crowd murmurs.

"Silence!" he shouts. "In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now 16 years old."

Woody turns to his befuddled cohorts. "What's the Spanish word for 'straitjacket'?" he asks.

I felt a little like that last week when Premier Danny Williams announced that Newfoundland nurses would be stuck with the government's first offer if they had to be legislated back to work.

"We would legislate them back on the template, which is exactly what we've offered to over 30,000 other public servants," he told reporters.

"So, there'll be no standby increase, no shift differential increase, no educational leave, there will be no additional steps for nurses coming into the system, and there'll be no additional steps for nurses that are already in the system."

This is straitjacket talk.

Stay focused

Both sides in this dispute gave some hard-fought ground, before talks broke off Monday.

And the focus has always been on retention and recruitment. If the government has to legislate nurses back to work, it should impose the latest offer, the one that comes closest to an acceptable compromise. To revert to the original offer is to essentially say, "We don't care about recruitment and retention anymore; we just want to teach you nurses a lesson."

That's the attitude of someone who is letting the power of the office twist his judgment.

The extreme bitterness between nurses and the government - in particular, between Williams and union president Debbie Forward - has burst through the debate on a number of occasions. Both sides are equally stubborn. Forward, in particular, has been pushing the union's agenda for years now, and she's determined not to lose sight of their goals now.

Forward's decision last week to announce an overtime boycott instead of a strike was likely a ploy to demonstrate how huge a demand there is for nurses. If so, it worked. While Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy was crowing in the House of Assembly that the union's move was a sign of weakness, health boards in the province were scrambling to avert what would have been a disaster. The nurses were forced to go back to the original strike plan, while providing essential services.

Staggering overtime

Meanwhile, CBC-TV unveiled some statistics it had received on nurses' overtime. The numbers are staggering. The Health Sciences Centre in St. John's recorded almost 6,000 hours of overtime in May of last year alone. That's just one month. Overall, during the four months from April to July 2008, Eastern Health had to pay out the equivalent of more than 5,000 nursing shifts in overtime.

But forget that. Williams said it's more important to stick it to the nurses than to properly address this unsustainable shortage. Well, Mr. Premier, this is not "Deal or no Deal." We're talking about a crucial component of the province's health-care system. It's not about settling a score.

Most people are fairly entrenched in their views of this battle by now. Many call the nurses greedy. Some relate lame anecdotes about nurses twiddling their thumbs or chatting idly with co-workers. Even many of those who've supported them till now believe nurses should stand down and claim a partial victory.

Either way, let's not lose sight of the essential problem here. The staffing crunch varies from place to place, but the overall situation is dire. The numbers prove it. Nursing graduates are leaving the province in droves. Morale in emergency rooms and many hospital wards is in the cellar.

What we need are creative solutions and compromise.

What we don't need are vindictive, regressive taunts.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: New Yorker, CBC, The Health Sciences Centre The Telegram

Geographic location: San Marcos, San Marco, Newfoundland St. John's

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments