Tšepong court case fails to take off

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE legal battle between Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) and its 311 striking nurses failed to take off yesterday due to the “unpreparedness” of the hospital’s legal team to proceed.

The Labour Court therefore, postponed the matter to 17 March 2021.

However, the Lesotho Times has learnt that the QMMH management and the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) will soon meet to try and find an amicable solution. Although it could not be confirmed yesterday, it is suspected that this was the reason for which the QMMH legal team was unprepared proceed with court processes yesterday to allow for negotiations.

QMMH, popularly known as Tšepong, rushed to court on Monday seeking an interim order to force its 311 nurses to return to work pending finalisation of its application in which it wants the court to declare the nurses’ industrial action illegal.

This after its nurses and nursing assistants embarked onto a go-slow on 1 February 2021 to press the government and QMMH to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.

QMMH nurses said they have not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.

According to the LNA, nurses at QMMH earn about M9000 each per month. The figure is way less than the M13 000 earned by their colleagues in CHAL facilities and other government hospitals.

And on 24 February, the Labour Court president, Motlatsi Monoko, ruled that the nurses should halt the go-slow until both parties returned to court yesterday to finalise the matter. However, the matter did not proceed.

Scores of QMMH nurses and other members of the LNA gathered at the Labour Court premises in Maseru yesterday anxiously awaiting the outcome of the case. They arrived at the courtyard carrying placards bearing different messages such as “Pay nurses their worth”, “Why is the government silent” and “We have come to abhor nursing profession” among others.

The matter was supposed to be heard from 2pm and a limited number of the nurses were allowed into the courtroom to witness the proceedings. However, they waited impatiently until after 3:30 pm when the security guard entered and told everyone in the gallery to leave the courtroom because she had to lockup. She told the nurses to wait for their representatives, who had been called to Mr Monoko’s office, outside the court.

Addressing the nurses on leaving Mr Monoko’s chambers, LNA secretary general, ‘Mamonica Mokhesi, said that all they wanted was their money and had no interest in the court case.

“The case has failed to proceed because Tšepong said it was still preparing itself and therefore we will return next Wednesday,” Ms Mokhesi said.

“You will remember that we have no interest in that case. We did not study law and we are not fighting anyone. We only know rule of life which states that our lives are in danger. We are nurses and trained professionals. What we ask for is our money – we do not care whom it is coming from – all we ask is that we be given our money, whether it is from Tšepong or the government.”

Ms Mokhesi said that they would meet the QMMH management tomorrow to try to reach a solution outside court.

“We have a closed meeting with Tšepong on Friday (tomorrow) and we are going there because we want our money. We want Tšepong to give us our money and for Netcare to explain where they get the audacity to pay mediocre salaries when they get to Lesotho yet they pay way more than that in other countries. Maybe they were told that there were slaves here whom they could exploit.

“We are humans and deserve to be protected. We have a right to life like anybody else. We cannot save other people’s lives when we do not have means to live.”

She said they were shocked as to what had happened to the urgency Tšepong had pleaded on 24 February when they were before court.

Opened in 2011, QMMH is owned by the government but is run by the Tšepong consortium comprising of five companies, namely Netcare Healthcare Group and Afri’nnai of South Africa, as well as Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments from Lesotho.

Although QMMH operates as a public-private sector partnership (PPP) agreement between the government and the Tšepong consortium, the hospital’s public relations manager, Mothepane Thahane, earlier this month said their nursing staff and nursing assistants were left out when the government reviewed the salaries of health workers in 2012.

The industrial action followed the Health ministry’s failure to address the nurses’ grievances by the 27 January 2021 deadline given by the nurses.

The 311 QMMH nurses and assistant nurses are the first to 311th respondents while the LNA is the 312th respondent in the case.

In his 24 February 2021 interim ruling, Mr Monoko urged the two parties to find an amicable solution as the hospital was important towards the welfare of the nation.

“This is a very serious matter emanating from a hospital which is an essential service provider. It is our conviction that an everlasting solution should be reached, regardless of the dispute between the parties because we are all served by this hospital,” Mr Monoko said.

However, the call was ignored by the disgruntled nurses. Daily, they gather at the LNA offices close to the High Court in Maseru while only skeletal staff continues to work at the hospital.

 

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