Suspension of the Solomon Islands Nurses Association (SINA) as a Trade Union

The Solomon Islands Nursing Association has been suspended as a Trade Union under the Provisions of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19)(No. 3) (Suspension of Trade Union)(Solomon Islands Nurses Association) Order 2020 for a breach of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19)(No.3) Regulations 2020 (“the Regulations”), Processions and Public Assemblies Act and the Essential Services Act.

The government states unequivocally right at the start that ‘the government fully supports all its nurses that are working and serving the people of this country, regardless of where in the country they work, and what role they play, in the provision of nursing services to all the citizens of our country’.

This level of support to, and respect for our nurses, is the reason the government, despite our poor economic situation, and inability to pay, has provided all the nurses and nursing aides working in Solomon Islands with one of the best Schemes of Service, this country has ever seen for any category of workers in its public service.

However the government is convinced after negotiating and working with the SINA Executive that the body representing the nurses in the country was not interested in or concerned about the real dangers our country is facing at this time with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, SINA totally abused its role as a Trade Union, taking advantage of the current perilous state our country’s economy, as a result of the single largest development and health threat our country has ever faced since independence, to push its own agenda that completely disregards the danger facing this country. It completely disregards the oath of service its members subscribed to in their profession, and instead used the pandemic and our current situation to hold this country and its population at ransom for personal gain of itself and its members. It did not even explain to all its members the real reasons they were proposing the strike in the first instance, and a sit-in protest when they could not muster the support for a strike under the State of Emergency.

Unfortunately, the recent actions of SINA have brought into question the professionalism and integrity as a Trade Union whose sole purpose was to look after the welfare of its members.

How else can one explain the rationale that at the time when this county needs all its nurses onboard, to address a situation of potential national disaster and national security, SINA instead pulled its members out of service and instead holds the government and the people of this country at ransom to pay some more allowances to already extremely well-paid nurses.

People of Solomon Islands, the call by SINA for its members to participate in a sit-in protest which was not approved by the appropriate relevant authorities was not a co-incident. It was a calculated strategy, aimed at bringing the government to its knees and using Covid-19 as the weapon to get what it wanted.

You will all recall the Prime Minister in his weekly address on Monday 26th October, announced the four new Covid-19 cases among the footballers that came home from the England. You will also recall the Prime Minister stating that we are expecting some more cases among the passengers because of the poor behaviours of the Covid-19 positive soccer players that were on the flight.

Members of the Public, we know our country was entering a critical period in our fight against Covid-19. This was the time when we, the people of this country, look to the nursing profession to give back to us, the citizens of this country their undivided attention and care so that they can give back to the citizens of Solomon Islands only a small part of the investment that we have provided to train, to employ, to house, and to pay huge allowances for. At the very least, we never expected members of our nursing profession to desert and turn their backs to our patients at the country’s hour of need.

Yet, that was exactly what occurred on Friday 30th October 2020, and again on Saturday 31st October, and again on Sunday 1st November. SINA asked its nurses to neglect their calling, to desert their patients, to defy our laws, and to defy instructions from the government in-order to hold our people at ransom simply for gain.

SINA had dumped the Nursing Ethical Principles. It turned is back on the Nurses’ Pledge. It had hope to use the public’s emotions to put pressure on the government which is already brought to its knees economically by the Covid-19 pandemic, to pay even more allowances to nurses.

Members of the Public, only 73 nurses in total are involved with the Covid-19 operations. 69 of these are on the front line, and 4 as support team. All 73 nurses have been receiving their allowances. So why is SINA protesting when the nurses doing the work are getting their allowances?

This planned call to withdraw the services of nursing staff at the NRH, HCC and Guadalcanal province serving close to Honiara, with an appeal to SINA members throughout the country to support their cause in Honiara, at a time when we all know we may have some more cases of Covid-19, is totally irresponsible and amounts to total unprofessionalism, unethical, immoral, negligent, and goes against every ethical standing governing nursing worldwide.

While there are many variants of the Nurses’ Oaths or Pledges used by countries the world over, one of the most used one is as follows:

Nurses' Pledge of Service 

I solemnly pledge myself to the service of humanity and will endeavour to practise my profession with conscience and with dignity.

I will maintain, by all the means in my power, the honour and noble tradition of my profession. 

The total health of my patients will be my first consideration. 

I will hold in confidence all personal matters coming to my knowledge. 

I will not permit consideration of religion, nationality, race, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient. 

I will maintain the utmost respect for human life. 

I make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

These are the principles under which our nurses work. In a disciplined profession such as nursing, these are the only yardsticks upon which we judge and contrast the work of our nurses.

It is these principles that can tell us, the common people of this country, if our nurses are working in accordance with their pledge of service. It is because of these values, and principles that the government has invested much on training and employing our nurses to ensure they are well recognised, respected, and rewarded, despite the country’s dire economic situation.

Yet SINA is holding the government and the people of this country at ransom. People of Solomon Islands, should the government just bow down and pay more money to our nursing profession just because that is SINA’s only and sole objective for the sit-in protest?

Many people asked why was SINA Suspended?

Simply speaking, SINA broke so many laws, by calling for and overseeing the sit-in protest by its members. Following are some of the laws that SINA as a trade union had blatantly disregarded and broken through its illegal action.

Firstly, the Association has, despite clear notification by the relevant authorities, by conducted, condoned and / or allowed to occur an illegal protest or sit-in is in violation of the Procession and Public Assemblies Act [Cap 29].

Secondly, despite the existence of a State of Public Emergency in Solomon Islands, and declaration of Honiara as an Emergency Zone, the Association has by conducted, condoned and / or allowed to occur acts that have placed the public health and public interest at risk.

Thirdly, with regards to role of Nurses as under the Regulations, Nurses are defined as “Authorised Officers”. As such, the Association has by conducted, condoned, procured and / or allowed the dereliction of duties by its members with regards to the performance of their duties under the Regulations.

In addition, SINA as has not complied with:
• the requirements of the Essential Services Act in the withdrawal of the services of its members from their patients, and
• the requirements of their own Nursing Council Act

Some people also asked, if it was correct that the government suspended SINA, or was it an over-reaction by government?

For the information of the public SINA presented to government many issues it considered outstanding, or that were already agreed, but that the government had reneged on.

Below is a summary in chronological order of events since the meeting organised by the Office of the Prime Minister 0n 3rd and 4th of October 2020, to address the issues of concern to SINA.

1. On Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th October 2020 SIG represented by MPS, MHMS, AG’s Chambers and OPMC met with the SINA Executive to discuss and agree a plan to address the issues they consider to be outstanding or issues they believe SIG has reneged on. The meeting on 4th October was chaired by the Secretary to Prime Minister and it reviewed the items discussed the previous day.

2. The meeting reached the following understanding at the end of the meeting on 4th October:

a. The Covid-19 allowance issue was clarified that:

i. The government had agreed to two levels of allowances referred to as Tier 1 and 2

• Tier 1 allowances are reserved for frontline workers that actually meet with people coming into the country at points of entry and was set at $300/day per day and to be escalated to $400/day if covid-19 actually reaches the country. This allowance is paid only for the days the front-liner meets or works with people infected by Covid-19. Only 69 Nurses are under this category.

• Tier 2 allowance is given to people that provide essential support such as camp management, contact tracers etc and is $150/day. This allowance is also paid for actual days worked. Only 4 Nurses are under this c category.

• These allowances are paid through payroll. They need to be checked and validated before payroll can do payments. The allowances are therefore paid in arrears on the next pay-day or the following depending on the verification process.

ii. The $250 per fortnight SINA was asking for the total 1,200 nurses in the country was not appropriate. Those that are working, with Covid-19 had already been recognised.

iii. The $1,000 per fortnight for nurses in emergency zone was not only in appropriate also not justifiable especially at a time our country is under severe economic pressure.

b. Nursing Structure

The meeting agreed to set up a joint taskforce comprising MPS, MHMS, OPMC and SINA to assess the issues and present options. MPS had established the parameters of the taskforce and work should be starting soon. SINA jumped the gun.

c. Other matters

The meeting agreed that the TORs for the Taskforce to would be expanded to incorporate the other areas

At the end of the meeting SIG reps were happy we had reached an important way forward with SINA that would address their issues in a comprehensive manner. We did not expect SINA to renege on what was agreed on, to institute an unilateral illegal industrial action in its part.

3. On Wednesday 28 October, SINA went public calling on their members to participate in a sit-down protest at the NRH carpark on Friday 30th October for what they alleged was the non-payment of Covid-19 allowances.

4. On Thursday morning SPM convened urgent meeting involving PSF, PSMPS, PSH (and her senior executive), AG and OPMC to discuss and validate the claims.

5. PSH and PSF advised the meeting that all allowances except for the October had been paid and the October allowances were being processed and would be paid by Friday 30th or Monday 2nd November.
All allowances were calculated on daily basis on actual days / shifts worked. These have first to be verified. They are then incorporated into the payroll and are paid in arrears either the next payday or two paydays later depending on verification process.

6. Head of Nursing Services was asked to convey to the nurses that (i) any intention of sit-in protests etc. were against the SOPE Regulations during the SOPE, (ii) allowances were being paid, and (iii) ask nurses not to participate in any proposed sit-in protest.

7. Head of Nursing met with the SINA Executive and the Nursing Executive to advise them to inform the nurses not to participate in any sit-in protect. The Head of Nursing also sent out instructions to all nurses directing them not to participate in any sit-in protects at 1.58 pm on Thursday 29 October 2020.

8. The SINA Executive submitted to the HCC City Clerk and the Commissioner of Police a request to do a sit-down protest at the NRH carpark late Thursday afternoon (29/10/20). The request was not approved. To the contrary the City Clerk advised SINA that what they wanted to do was illegal under the Emergency Regulations. He also advised SINA not to do their sit-in protest. The Commissioner of Police also did not approve the SINA Request.

9. At12.14 am, Friday 30 October the Head of Nursing Services sent out instructions to all Nurses in Honiara (NRH, HCC, GP) not to participate in any sit-down protest as follows.

Suspension of the Solomon Islands Nurses Association (SINA) as a Trade Union

10. Friday 30 October Newspapers carried releases from SINA advising the nation they had called off their Sit-down protest because permission was not granted by the relevant authorities and that they are a law-abiding entity. This turned out to be another blatant lie to the people of this country.

11. Friday morning, 30th October 2020, several nurses defied the directive from the Head of Nursing, and contrary to the SINA press release, congregated at the carpark.

The main claim by nurses for this protest can be summarised as follows:

i. Their claim of non-payment of allowances. – which was false -see above

ii. Payment of $250 / fort night for every nurse in the country – this means an additional $6,500 per nurse pe year

iii. Payment of $1000 / fortnight for all nurses living in declared emergency zones, during the state of emergency – this means a potential additional $26,000 per nurse per year if the SOPE remains for a year.

12. At 9am Friday morning the Head of Nursing advised the President of SINA to advise his members to disperse and return to work. The President instead went to join the protesting nurses for most of Friday.

13. The RSIPF was requested to deploy to ensure there was no unnecessary security or other issues.

14. At or around noon on Friday 30 October, a Directive as issued by the Covid-19 Incident Controller to the Nurses to stop their protest and go back to work advising them on the conditions of the SOPE. However, they stayed on.

15. Members of SINA Executive continued to support the nurses’ protest.

16. Of the 60 plus nurses that were rostered on to work yesterday, just about 20 turned up to work. The others had withdrawn their services.

The above situational analysis provided the full evidence of SINA not wishing to listen, nor engage in a manner that is responsible and reasonable and in keeping with protecting the interest of the people in the country and instead used the

COVID-19 situation as a weapon to press their agenda of greed and manipulation for their own personal gain.

SINA had broken many laws in continuing with its illegal actions. Basically, the message by SINA was simply, “We do not care about the pandemic. We do not care about the people of this country. We do not care about the government. We do not care about anybody else’s interest. All we care about is our allowances. If you do not give it to our members, we will break whatever laws to ensure we get it. And they have broken not one, but many laws up to this point.

Must the nation continue to bow to ridiculous demands driven by greed by a Trade Union has lost its way and is holding the country at ransom? Please remember than the more allowances are given to already very well-paid nurses, the more we are taking away from the poor people of this country to make them even poorer.

Is it right that a trade union does this to our people, our country, our government? Is SINA above the law?

From government’s perspective, the correct question that should be asked is, ‘is suspension the correct level of action taken, or should it have been de-registration?’

Some people also asked, will the nurses that have taken part in this illegal activity be disciplined?
This is a simple case that the laws have been broken. The Emergency Regulations and other relevant laws have provisions that if those law have been contravened, that person commits an offence and therefore, will be subject to charges. Several individuals have already been charged under the Regulations for breaches that are of minor standings compared to what SINA has done.

Members of the public, the government hold SINA solely and totally responsible for driving this agenda, and for coercing and forcing

Many nurses have been enticed, coerced, forced to join the sit-in protest, especially the younger nurses who felt they had to participate against their will.

The message in Part 1 of this series, is that all nurses must stand by your ‘Nurses Pledge’. Do not be blinded by what SINA and its former executive had been forcing you to do. If the nurses stop their protest and return to do what they are employed to do, that action alone will stand in their favour during the investigations.

So, are our Nurses and Nurse Aides really paid as poorly as SINA would have us believe?

Please look out for Part 2 of this series on Tuesday’s Newspapers to find out more.