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Feeling the heat

QEH kitchen staff walk off the job

Patients at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) received their meals late today as kitchen staff walked off the job this morning, frustrated with having to work in a hot and uncomfortable environment.

The workers complained that extractor fans which have not been working for months are still out of order,  making the kitchen unbearable and causing at least two workers to faint this week because of the intense heat.

Speaking to the media after a meeting with the hospital’s management, acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Roslyn Smith declared that the workers would not return to the kitchen until the problem was fixed.

Some workers who asked not to be identified told Barbados TODAY that while they were committed to preparing meals for the vulnerable and were told to take frequent breaks until the condition improved, they could no longer tolerate the unbearable heat.

A statement issued by the hospital’s communication specialist Julie Carrington confirmed that some members of the kitchen staff walked off the job around 4:00 p.m. yesterday and did not take up their positions at the start of the 6:00 a.m.
shift today.

However, Carrington said that the contingency plan which was in place when the island was impacted by Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010 was activated, with relief staff comprising supervisors, cooks, general workers and porters in addition to permanent employees staying on to ensure that the meals were served to patients.

“All patients have been receiving their meals and that would continue until the situation is alleviated,” she said.

The communication specialist further stated that management was cognizant of the heat conditions in the kitchen and was working to ensure that the extractor fans are installed as soon as possible. In the interim, she said management has provided cooling relief with the provision of nine industrial fans and three evaporative fans.

“Presently, the two extractor fans which were ordered are in the Bridgetown Port and efforts are ongoing to have them cleared as soon as possible. In the meantime, the relief teams would continue working over the weekend and normal operations in the kitchen would resume as soon as is practically possible,” she explained.

Last month, the kitchen workers were relocated to the school meals department to allow renovations to be carried out at the facility.

Smith, who stressed that the workers had a genuine concern, stated that the regular workers would not return to the kitchen unless favourable conditions were provided.

“If you allow the workers to stay off the job, then it means they will be paid. Two workers have already fainted in the kitchen and I don’t think it would be wise to endanger anyone else.

“And if you look at the Health and Safety Act, management would have to follow that because they would be liable if something happens to those persons,” Smith said.

Earlier this week, staff at both the School Meals Department and the Central Bank of Barbados also staged protests for various reasons. The Schools Meals staff were upset over changes to their working hours while the CBB staff walked out in protest over the hiring of an intern at a salary higher than many senior staff.

The industrial relations climate in the country has been rather unstable in recent months, with strikes by workers at the Psychiatric Hospital at Black Rock, St Michael, sanitation workers, and by customs officers over plans to integrate the customs department into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA). However, the most threatening was a lengthy battle over the forced retirement of about a dozen employees of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) who had reached the age of 60. The country was on the brink of a national shutdown when the two unions involved, the NUPW and the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and Government reached a settlement to avert the strike.

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