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Nurses’ strike looms at Queen Elizabeth II

by Lesotho Times
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MASERU –– Nurses at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital are set to down tools in protest over poor pay and working conditions.

Sources at the hospital said the nurses two weeks ago handed a letter to the medical superintendent, Dr Maama Mojela, notifying him of their intention to strike.

The Lesotho Times last month reported that nurses had threatened to strike in protest over working conditions.

Queen Elizabeth II is the country’s biggest and only referral hospital.

“Letters were sent to the medical superintendent and senior nursing officers. Nurses, backed by other hospital staff, are complaining about the awful working conditions, work overload and low salaries,” said the source.

Nurses earn average salaries of M4 600 a month, an amount they say is too low.

Nurses holding university degrees are also not happy that they are earning salaries equal to those with college diplomas.

The source said the nurses were not happy that while the hospital was struggling to provide basic services authorities were quick to blame the nurses for the shoddy services at the hospital.

“Nurses said they were tired of the management blaming them for the failures at the hospital.

“They are also denying charges that they are stealing drugs saying they had no access to the hospital’s pharmacy,” he said.

The source said the nurses were also not happy with the manner in which the Ministry of Health is administering their risk allowances paid by international donors.

Some nurses were not happy that they were not receiving their allowances paid by the Global Fund.

He said the nurses were arguing that it was unfair for the government to deny the allowances to some nurses when all of them were exposed to diseases such as Aids.

“The nurses accused the senior nursing officers of corruption in handling the donor funds.

“They said it was unfair that the funds were not being given to every health care-giver because they were all at risk of contracting infectious diseases,” said the nurse.

The nurses also said there was no transparency in the way the donor funds were being administered.

“Some nurses complained that they were not receiving the money at all. Some said they got M540 while others get between M2 000 and M2 800 a month,” she said.

A senior official at Global Fund Lesotho, only identified as Chobokoane, said the administration of the funds was a prerogative of the Ministry of Health.

Chobokoane was addressing nurses at a meeting called to discuss their grievances at the hospital yesterday.

The two-hour meeting was attended by hospital staff, Dr Mojela and officials from the Ministry of Health.

“The ministry is the one that gives the names of employees who should get the money and the amounts,” Chobokoane said.

He said it was important that the ministry distributes the allowances fairly as all health workers were exposed to HIV and tuberculosis.

A cleaner at the hospital who refused to be named said it was unfair for the ministry to give allowances to nurses only leaving out other workers.

“That we are not well educated like the nurses does not mean that we are not likely to get infected. Maybe we are even more exposed (to diseases) than nurses. We also deserve to get the incentives,” he said.

He said they had over the past 10 years requested to get protective clothing from the authorities without success.

“It is now over 10 years since we asked to get protective clothing. But it seems like someone somewhere has been disturbing the progress.

“For years we have been told that the requisitions were still to be approved. We have been waiting for too long now,” he said. 

He said they were exposed to serious diseases every day as they scrubbed floors covered in human blood and human excreta.

Mojela confirmed yesterday that he had received the grievance letter from the nurses.

“The grievances made a lot of sense and were issues that need to be rectified. Last week we held two days of productive dialogue where we discussed some of the issues,” Mojela said.

Mojela said the ministry was looking into the nurses’ grievances.

A meeting between the nurses and the hospital authorities has been called for next Wednesday to avert the looming strike.

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