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Tšepong nurses ordered back to work

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Mohalenyane Phakela | Limpho Sello

STRIKING Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) nurses have been ordered to return back to work.

Labour Court President, Motlatsi Monoko, ruled yesterday that the 311 striking workers should temporarily halt their largely go-slow industrial action until 10 March 2021 when a case filed against their strike action would be heard to finality.

The nurses were however adamant yesterday that they would continue with their protest action.

QMMH, popular known as Tsepong, rushed to court on Monday for an interim order for the return of the 311 nurses to work pending finalisation of its application in which it wants the court to declare the strike illegal.

The nurses began the strike for more pay on 1 February 2021. The nurses complain they have not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.

According to the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), each nurse at QMMH earns about M9000 per month, a figure way less than the M13 000 earned by their colleagues at other hospitals.

Opened in 2011, QMMH is owned by the government but is run by the Tšepong Consortium comprising of five other companies.

The hospital’s public relations manager, Mothepane Thahane, earlier this month said the nursing staff’s salaries were a responsibility of the government.  They had been left out when the government reviewed the salaries of health workers in 2012.

Their strike action followed the Health ministry’s failure to address the nurses’ grievances by the 27 January 2021 deadline they had set.

Presenting the hospital’s case yesterday, QMMH’s lawyer, Advocate Napo Khatala, argued that patients’ lives were at risk due to the nurses’ decision to “abscond” from duties.

“There is an illegal stoppage of work which commenced on 1 February and that has left critical departments such as the intensive care unit without nurses,” Adv Khatala argued.

“Even if there is a legitimate concern by the nurses, that does not justify their conduct which risks many lives of Basotho. The respondents will not suffer any prejudice if we are granted an interim relief (for them to return to work)… We therefore, pray that our prayers be granted.”

He also argued that QMMH had been patient with the nurses from the commencement of the industrial action. It had delayed going to court in preference of an amicable resolution.

However, the nurses’ lawyer, Adv Nthati Pheku, raised points of law which he said meant that QMMH had waived its right to treat the case as an urgent one.  It should thus be enrolled as normal litigation.

“This matter was instituted on 22 February 2021, which is a complete 21 days after the alleged strike commenced. They waited all that period to come here and claim urgency. There is no single sentence in their court papers where they explain the cause of their delay to institute this action. This matter thus warrants to be treated under normal modes of this court.

“The applicants also failed to comply with section 232 of the Labour Code in that after realising that there was a threat to essential services, they should have engaged the labour commissioner to investigate the dispute and report within 10 days.

“The court cannot, at this stage, entertain this premature application while there are other remedies that they can pursue. There is nowhere in their papers where they state that the services at the hospital have been disrupted,” Adv Pheku argued.

However, in his ruling, Mr Monoko asked the two parties to find an amicable solution as the hospital was important towards the welfare of the nation. He therefore, ordered the nurses to end their industrial action.

“We (Mr Monoko and his two assessors) have carefully considered all averments and the law applicable to this matter. It is our ruling that the application is granted.

“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, whatever the dispute by the parties because all of us are served by this hospital. The (interim rule) is returnable on 10 March 2021 when we will hopefully put this matter to rest,” Mr Monoko ruled.

After the ruling, the nurses could clearly be heard declaring that they would not end their industrial action.

“The court ordered that we reach an amicable solution with Tšepong and that is what we want within 10 days,” one nurse said.

Should the two parties fail to reach an amicable out of court settlement by 10 March 2021, they will argue the substantive issue of its “illegality”.

 

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