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Health workers threaten strike


’Marafaele Mohloboli

HEALTHCARE workers have threatened to down tools or engage in a go-slow after the Ministry of Health reduced their field allowance from M700 to M250.

The new allowances were announced in an interoffice memorandum dated 19 January 2016 and signed by Ministry of Health Acting Principal Secretary ‘Mamoruti Tiheli.

Titled ‘Wrong Application of Subsistence Allowance Guidelines’, the memo reads: “It has come to my attention that the Ministry of Health has been applying subsistence allowance guidelines incorrectly.

“The Ministry of Public Service issued circular notice no. 14 of 2008 dated 24th April 2008. The essence of the circular was to cancel the use of Purchase Orders where officers travel on duty to other districts but to use cash/cheques.

“The maximum amount to be given to an officer was M700: (M350 accommodation + M300 meals + M50 out of duty station allowance).”

However, the circular notice was rescinded by the Ministry of Public Service after it was “abused” by the health workers.

According to the new circular notice of 2009, “. . . officers on field trips where Government Orders are not applicable, and where there is clear evidence of no nearby hotels, officials will be eligible for M250 per day to cater for accommodation, meals and travel expenses such as horse hire”.

“It is therefore, inappropriate that the Ministry still uses the guidelines that have been revised. You are expected to adhere to the revised guidelines and cascade the message downwards,” added the interoffice memorandum.

But the new regulations have not gone down well with the health workers who have threatened to down tools over the issue.

According to health workers who spoke to the Sunday Express, the reduction in their subsistence allowance was adding insult to injury since they were actually expecting the ministry to increase the amount.

“We made it very clear seven years ago that the field allowance we are getting was insufficient and that it should be revised.

“It, therefore, came as a shock that instead of an increase, we got a cut in the allowance. We will definitely down tools,” said a Maseru-based health worker who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Another health worker said: “This is an insult to us, and it’s even more infuriating because the allowance money comes from donors and not from the government’s purse.

“This allowance is not just for health workers, but is given to everyone who is dispatched into the field including drivers and researchers.”

Contacted for comment, the Ministry of Health’s Director-General Disease Control Dr ‘Nyane Letsie said the allowance reduction was among a number of reforms they had embarked on.

“We are decentralising services and there is nothing sinister with this new budget. Besides, the money from donors goes into the government’s purse,” he said.
“Our budget for the 2015/2016 financial year was queried by the Minister of Finance, and as management we were called to account on the guidelines we were using. After assessing our cash flow, it became evident that the circular was being abused, hence the cut.”

Dr Letsie said the measures they were putting in place were meant to reduce wastage.
“It doesn’t make sense to send health workers to the districts when there are trained people already deployed in those stations,” he said.

“There are also some unemployed health workers who know the places and patients better. We will dispatch people to reinforce those that we already have. That is what we call decentralization.”
On his part, Health Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane warned health workers mulling industrial action of “disciplinary measures” should they go ahead with their threat.
“It would be sad if taxpayers, who pay our salaries, are denied their rights of service. Our health workers have a code of conduct and ethics to adhere to, and failure to do so calls for disciplinary action,” said Dr Monyamane.
“We are determined to be a reformist government and to put Basotho’s needs before ours as politicians. That is the coalition government’s principle. Transparency, accountability and service delivery.”

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