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Health professionals go on strike yet again

Limpho Sello

HEALTH professionals have embarked on yet another crippling nationwide strike in protest over the Ministry of Health’s delay in paying their risk allowances for their frontline work in the fight against the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The health workers have coalesced under the banner of the Coalition of Health Professionals. This is their third strike since April in connection with the same issue. Their last strike in July lasted for two weeks and it was only called off after the government agreed to pay the allowances as well as provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield them from the deadly virus.

But not all the health workers have received the allowances to date. The coalition had initially given the government until 9 September 2020 to have fully paid all workers or face industrial action with effect from 14 September. They subsequently extended the deadline to yesterday to give the ministry time to pay all the workers after the government indicated that it would begin paying them in batches from 12 September.

The workers eventually downed tools yesterday, saying the government had only paid support staff and ignored repeated appeals to pay the rest of the health professionals.

The coalition’s deputy spokesperson Dr Mojakisane Ramafikeng yesterday confirmed that they were on strike.

Dr Ramafikeng said they had written to the health ministry on Monday informing it of their intention to down tools yesterday.

He said the ministry did not even bother to reply.

Parts of the coalition’s letter to the ministry states that, “after several meetings of negotiations, the coalition and the cabinet agreed on the payment of Covid-19 risk allowances as per identified categories with explanations in which professionals are included in each category”.

“The allowances started to be disbursed to recipients from Friday 11 September 2020. Most unfortunately, when the funds were disbursed, it became apparent that the categories had been flouted and majority of the health professionals did not get their money. Instead, it was observed that payments were made mostly to support staff.

“Once more the coalition engaged the Ministry of Health to resolve this gross error.  At the time of sending out this mail, the majority of health professionals still have not been paid. They are thus understandably furious to say the least.

“Against that, they have only agreed to be patient until 22 September 2020.  If this money is not paid by then, the health professionals intend to lay down tools as from Wednesday 23 September 2020 until the payments have been made to all health professionals,” the coalition states in its Monday letter informing the government of its intention to strike.

Dr Ramafikeng subsequently told this paper that they were left with no choice but to strike because the government “only delivers” when faced with strikes and protests.

“We have been discussing the same issues for far too long without anything being down to ensure our wellbeing and safety. It is very unfortunate because the government appears not to understand the urgency of our issues.

“We therefore have resolved to stay away from work until our allowances are paid.  Clearly, this (strike) is what our government wants before it acts,” Dr Ramafikeng said.

Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo yesterday apologised for the delay in paying the allowances and appealed to all health workers to return to work.

“The Ministry of Health appeals to all the health professionals and their associations who have been affected by this delay to bear with them for having caused the delay. Let us hold hands and continue to work on this issue so that services can be delivered to Basotho,” Mr Maqelepo said.

He said they had so far paid 3500 health workers and only 1500 were yet to receive their allowances. He said they would all be promised by tomorrow.

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