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Strike paralyses Tšepong operations

by Lesotho Times
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By Limpho Sello

MASERU — Four Tšepong hospital workers are in a critical condition after they were injured during a violent strike which exploded at the referral facility yesterday morning.
The workers were admitted at Makoanyane Military Hospital, but the Lesotho Times could not ascertain their condition by the time of going to press last night.

Yesterday’s strike came after the employees, through the Lesotho Workers’ Association (LEWA), rejected the company’s most recent offer of a four percent salary increase, demanding that the hospital should restructure the entire salary structure, instead.

Following the deadlock, LEWA officials had a meeting with the Minister of Health, Dr Pinkie Manamolela, last week, during which she said the workers’ grievances were being looked into.
However, this response did not go down with the workers, who then gave notice of the strike, which yesterday paralysed operations at the hospital, which is officially known as Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital, and resulted in scores of the picketing staff being injured after being attacked by the police.

When a Lesotho Times crew visited the hospital at around 8am yesterday, the workers could be seen dancing and singing at the entrance, while some police officers, clad in antiriot gear, monitored the situation.
However, the situation suddenly changed when more armed police arrived, as the officers then charged the striking workers, assaulting them with truncheons, while hurling insults at them.

During the confusion, scores of the workers were injured, while the Lesotho Times was also told by LEWA officials that some of the employees had earlier been shot allegedly by the police — and taken to Makoanyane Military Hospital.

A police officer assaulting a female employee, who had fallen to the ground, could be heard shouting: “What are you doing here and what do you want? Just get up and go home you (unprintable expletive)…. What money do you want?”
But the now-injured employee asked the police officer: “Why are you beating me up like this? Don’t you also want money?”
The officer then left the hapless woman, and ran after the other workers, who were fleeing in all directions.

But the angry workers later told the Lesotho Times they would ever stop the strike until they get the salary increase they are demanding, and the hospital management starts treating them “like human beings”.
According to the LEWA National Organiser, Mr Hlalefang Seoaholimo, the police had reportedly told the workers that the strike was illegal as there was a court order which had been obtained the day before, on April 29, blocking it.

But Mr Seoaholimo questioned the authenticity of the court order, arguing it should not have been issued without a case being heard before the Labour Court.
He also said the court order was addressed to LEWA only and not its members, in this case, Tšepong workers.
“These employees need to fight for their rights and we will fight to the bitter end, until we get the money we want,” Mr Seoaholimo said.
“We are angry that some of our colleagues have been injured; people are bleeding now, which is something that was not supposed to happen.
“What the police have done today is illegal; we will seek legal advice on the next step to take regarding this uncalled-for police brutality. If need be, we will sue those responsibility for this brutality, including the government.
“What has happened here is tragic and the saddest part is that the Tšepong management is treated like God by our government, although government is also a shareholder (30-percent while Tšepong consortium owns 70-percent).”

Meanwhile, some patients who had come for consultation at the hospital were left frustrated as they could not be attended to because of the strike. The patients could not even be allowed inside the hospital by private security guards, with the sentries not explaining why.

A patient who said he had come all the way from Mafeteng, said he had been diagnosed with cancer and told to come to the hospital yesterday so he could be transferred to Bloemfontein, South Africa, for treatment.
“Because of this strike, I cannot go to Bloemfontein, which puts me in a very difficult position. I am not being allowed inside the hospital because these guards are saying I cannot go in although I have shown them letters indicating that I need to be transferred to Bloemfontein for treatment,” the patent, who refused to be named, said.

Another patient, who said he was from Ha- Tšui, said he was supposed to see a skin-specialist yesterday, but had failed to get inside the hospital because of the strike.
Contacted last night for comment, the hospital’s Public Relations Officer, Ms Limpho Seeiso said: “Some of the employees were not on strike and continued with their work, although the situation was not ideal.”
Asked why the patients were being turned away, Ms Seeiso said: “We had made announcements over the radios last week that people who had appointments should postpone their consultation.
“At that time, we didn’t know how many people would go on strike and we thought the staff who would turn up would attend those already admitted in the hospital.
We told the patients to postpone their consultations until things return to normal.”

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