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Nurses blast “heartless” MPs

Limpho Sello

THE Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) has criticised legislators for allegedly ignoring striking Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) nurses’ legitimate salary and welfare grievances.

In a strongly worded weekend statement, LNA president, Raphael Tlali, accused MPs of majoring on minor issues when parliament resumed its sittings on 15 February 2021 after a lengthy Christmas break which began on 27 November 2020.

He said instead of discussing the “exploitation of nurses” by the QMMH management, MPs only focused on the “minor issue” of whether or not parliament should conduct virtual sittings.

The Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, announced last week that beginning, only 30 out of the 120 legislators would be allowed in parliament while the rest would have to remotely follow proceedings and contribute virtually in line with public health regulations which bar more than 30 people from congregating in a closed area.

The new arrangement was supposed to begin last Tuesday but it is facing resistance from the MPs.

The speaker said even the figure of 30 MPs in parliament would be reduced further until all parliamentary proceedings were conducted virtually.

This prompted resistance from the MPs who said the order was made without consulting them and it denied the majority of legislators their rights to vote and fully participate in parliamentary issues.

Such heated discussions over the virtual sessions of parliament should not have taken precedence over the QMMH nurses’ grievances, Mr Tlali said.

“We are extremely disappointed that we are exploited under your watch,” Mr Tlali said regarding the MPs’ failure to discuss the QMMH nurses’ strike.

“For two consecutive days (last Monday and Tuesday) you were in parliament and no one uttered a word about the shutting down of the only national referral hospital in the country.

“Why was that the case. Is it true that some parliamentarians are shareholders in that hospital? Do you really care about Basotho lives,” Mr Tlali asked the MPs in his statement.

QMMH nurses and nursing assistants have been on strike since 1 February 2021 to press the government to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.

There is no agreement in sight despite a series of talks involving all stakeholders, namely the nurses, QMMH management and newly appointed Health Minister Semano Sekatle.

QMMH nurses say 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.

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, 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, last week said all nursing staff were paid by the government. They had however been left out when the government reviewed the salaries of health workers in 2012.

The nurses’ strike followed the health ministry’s failure to address the nurses’ grievances by the 27 January 2021 deadline given by the nurses.

The strike enters its fourth week tomorrow with nurses and nursing assistants refusing to yield to the hospital authorities’ directive for them to return to work.

They said they were only attending to critical cases out of compassion for ordinary people.

The MPs’ apparent silence in the face of the health crisis sparked by the strike has not gone down well with the LNA with Mr Tlali saying they felt abandoned and alone in their fight for improved working conditions.

“We have been lamenting for a full three weeks. In fact, we have been lamenting for many years for your (MPs’) help with the QMMH situation but you have been silent. The lesson we have learned is that we are alone in this fight,” Mr Tlali said.

He accused the QMMH management and government of exploiting the nurses and nursing assistants.

“QMMH does not have a standard salary structure and there are disparities in the remuneration. They pay nurses and nursing assistants salaries less than what their counterparts earn in other government facilities and this has been happening since 2012.

“They (QMMH management and government) abuse, threaten, discriminate, traumatise nurses and nursing assistants when they demand fair salaries. This goes as far as engaging security forces to threaten and brutally assault our members at the workplace.

“They use unfair labour practices to instill fear among those who demand fair remuneration,” Mr Tlali said.

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