Warring Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital workers and management have declared a truce following two weeks of damaging strike action which crippled operations at the referral facility widely known as Tšepong.
But there is no guarantee the peace will hold beyond this week should the hospital authorities fail to overhaul the workers’ salaries as expected by the disgruntled staff.
Since last year, the two parties have been haggling over a salary structure for the hospital but to no avail, leading to the strike which left scores of patients stranded.
But as reported elsewhere in this paper, the workers agreed to return to work on Friday, while management will tabled a new salary increase offer before the end of this week.
Before the strike, management had given the workers a four percent salary increase, arguing this was the best it could offer unless the government augmented the funding it currently gives the hospital.
Government was part of the deal that resulted in the temporary truce, but the nature of the agreement leaves no room for failure to increase the workers’ salaries beyond the four percent the hospital is prepared to offer. Yet this dispute could have been avoided altogether had the matter been handled appropriately from the onset.
The first issue that needs to be fully addressed and made clear is who is responsible for what at the hospital, between Tšepong Pty Ltd, which administers the facility, and government.
The perception among the public is the hospital belongs to the government since it was opened as a replacement for the government-owned Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, in October 2011.
Yet the reality is government can only claim a stake in the ultra-modern facility by injecting funding into the hospital.
By charging reduced rates for its services to ensure it caters for the masses, it means the hospital cannot make as much profit as it would otherwise generate if it was operating as a private institution.
Therein comes the government funding, which is pledged through the national budget, and which is expected to augment the subsidised rates the hospital charges its patients. But it appears information regarding each party’s responsibility — government and Tsepong Pty Ltd — is somehow not clearly communicated to the workers and other stakeholders, leading to misunderstandings which have cost the hospital dearly, particularly its reputation.
One hardly hears a kind word regarding the hospital, with the management vilified as capitalists out to make money at the expense of poor Basotho.
The country’s leadership does not make matters any better by politicising the establishment of the hospital which Lesotho was desperately in need of, in any case.
The Public Private Partnership which gave birth to the hospital was mooted during the government of Dr Pakalitha Mosisili.
But this cannot be the reason why the current administration should not embrace it and pull out all the stops in helping create a conducive environment at the hospital.
The workers have indicated they are not prepared to settle for anything less than an overhaul of their salaries, and it is our hope that this demand is being given the serious attention it deserves and is being addressed in a very clear manner by the relevant parties.
Government must also take a leading role in the Tšepong saga but taking responsibility of the situation and not come in as a mere observer, the way it has done so far.