- Angry employees give Prime Minister two weeks to resolve impasse
By Limpho Sello
MASERU – Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital workers have accused Health Minister Pinkie Manamolela of failing to intervene in their fight with management over a number of grievances.
The workers — who marched through Maseru central business district before presenting a list of their grievances to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on Tuesday morning — said they had lost confidence in Manamolela hence their decision to petition the premier.
A Lesotho Workers’ Association (LEWA) steward, ‘Matlalane Rapapa, read the petition before handing it over to Thabane, who was in the company of Manamolela.
Rapapa, who is also a nurse at the hospital, said the workers had informed Manamolela of their grievances through numerous letters but the minister had never responded to any of the correspondence.
“The minister has continued to ignore the workers’ cry for help, which clearly shows she is not interested in resolving their grievances.
“They are now fed-up and reluctant to report for duty because of the working conditions at the hospital. Because of the way they are treated by their management, the workers are no longer sure whether the hospital is privately-owned or is a government institution, and these are the questions they have been asking the minister but without any joy,” said Rapapa.
Among some of the grievances highlighted by Rapapa was their alleged abuse by the foreign management at the hospital.
“These foreigners ill-treat us at work and we also want Basotho to be part of the management, which is dominated by foreign nationals. We are being subjected to slavery, yet these abusive practices have since been outlawed internationally,” said Rapapa.
Rapapa made an example of a nurse who was reportedly denied sick leave and forced to continue with her duties by the management.
“We strongly demand that this management be mixed with Lesotho nationals who are conversant with the country’s labour laws and who can treat the employees with humanity and respect.”
Rapapa also pointed out that the hospital is understaffed, resulting in poor service-delivery.
“The shortage of staff has not only resulted in poor service-delivery, but also poor nurse-patient relationship and harassment of patients by some of the nurses. The nurses are also denied study leave and forced to resign should they insist on going back to school.”
Rapapa further said the workers have been asking management for a review of their salaries since April 2013, but to no avail.
“Since April last year, we have been asking for salary reviews so that they can be at par with those in the public sector and institutions under the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL), but this had not yielded any fruit.
“The government of Lesotho, through the ministries of Health and Finance, are stakeholders in these issues and last year easily helped resolve a dispute over salaries at CHAL, when the workers decided to go on strike.
“It is very sad that we have been crying about the same issue for close to a year now, and nothing has been done about it. We demand that we be paid like our counterparts in the rest of the health sector.”
The workers then gave Thabane two weeks to address their grievances, failing which they would go on an indefinite strike.
“We are giving your good office two weeks to respond to these grievances. If, after this period there is no satisfactory response, we are going to stop coming to work irrespective of the fact that Tšepong (Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital) offers an essential service.”
In response, Thabane said he first needed to study the contents of the letter after which he would respond.
“What I can say is that I will read the letter and reply to it as soon as possible,” Thabane said.
“I applaud what you did by bringing this letter to me without causing any trouble. I must say that was very professional of you.”
Manamolela, meanwhile, remained quiet during the handover and efforts to seek her comment were not successful.
The hospital’s Public Relations Officer, Limpho Seeiso, on the other had said it was unfortunate the workers had decided on this particular action.
“I haven’t seen the petition; the nurses have never brought to us the other grievances you mention, save that one of the salaries.
“As for the salary review, government has been working on it as there were talks between the ministries of Health and Finance, aimed at sorting out the issue.
“We understand that they want to earn the same salaries as their counterparts in the rest of the health sector and we are also aware that when CHAL salaries were increased, they wanted the same review.
“It the hospital’s wish that the employees’ salaries be reviewed, but you need to understand this is something that cannot happen overnight.
“We also don’t want to see the nurses go on strike as we provide essential services; it wouldn’t be a good idea if they decide to down tools.”
On the composition of the hospital’s management, Seeiso said: “The majority of the hospital’s management is local, not foreign as is being claimed.”
Seeiso further said the hospital is owned by the government, while Tšepong (Pty) Ltd was only hired by the government to manage it.
“So employees’ salaries come from government and not Tšepong,” Seeiso said.