Nurses set to down tools

MASERU — Queen Elizabeth II Hospital authorities this week called an emergency staff meeting in a desperate bid to avert a looming strike by nurses.

Nurses at Lesotho’s major and only referral hospital have threatened to down tools over wages they say are meagre.

The nurses are demanding a 50 percent salary increment and a review of their on-call allowances.

They are also unhappy that they were not included in the recent pay increase which saw teachers getting rises of at least 75 percent.

Nurses with university degrees are paid a gross salary of M5 100 while nurses with diplomas get a gross salary of M4 600.

Sources at the hospital say nurses have been holding secret meetings over the past two weeks to plot the strike which, if successful, could cripple operations at the hospital which is the backbone of Lesotho’s health services.

A source who was in one of the secret meetings told the Lesotho Times that the nurses were also planning to spread the strike to other filter government hospitals around Maseru and the districts.

The source, who is a nurse, said they were concerned by their working conditions and low on-call allowances which they say are too little.

The nurses say they are overworked because the hospital is understaffed.

The Lesotho Times can reveal that the hospital’s superintendant, Dr Maama Mojela, on Tuesday called a staff meeting at 2.30 pm to avert the strike.

In that meeting, attended by all hospital staff from doctors to general hands, Mojela said hospital employees were no longer allowed to have meetings to discuss anything to do with the health institution.

He is alleged to have said that any meeting of more than four employees discussing Queen Elizabeth II Hospital should be attended by a government official.

This paper could not independently establish whether this policy has been officially communicated to the employees.

Mojela, the source saiwd, also told the workers to be “wary of outsiders who might want to divide the staff at the hospital because they were a family”.

The meeting which the source said lasted more than an hour seems to have been organised after someone leaked information to Mojela about the planned job action.

There are now concerns among the nurses that those who were leading the plan could be targeted, a nurse said last night.

Mojela is also alleged to have  accused some workers of giving information to the Lesotho Times.

This was in apparent reference to the stories this paper has been running detailing the deteriorating conditions at the hospital.

Last month, this paper revealed that the hospital was facing a critical shortage of basic equipment and medication.

The story also revealed that the hospital did not have a CT scan machine, a crucial diagnostic machine used for patients with head injuries and stroke.

It is however understood that the CT scan machine was eventually delivered from South Africa during the first week of June.

It was installed but it is not clear whether the hospital has started using it already.

Two weeks later this paper also published a story of a woman who claimed that her baby had died after she delivered it in a toilet at the hospital after nurses had ignored her claims that she was about to give birth.

The woman alleged that the nurse on duty had told her that she was underpaid.

When contacted Mojela said he was not at liberty to talk to the media unless he gets express authority from the spokesperson of the health ministry, Tumisang Mokoai.

He said his “desire is to open up completely for Basotho to know the truth but as somebody who answers to a higher authority there are procedures to follow”.

Mokoai could not be reached on Wednesday.

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