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Tšepong workers end strike

Management expected to table new wage-offer this week

Limpho Sello

Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital workers on Friday ended their two-week strike, which had paralysed operations at the hi-tech referral facility popularly known as Tšepong.
The workers downed tools on April 29 after negotiations for a review of their salaries had reached a stalemate.

While the hospital management was offering a four percent salary increase, the workers were demanding a complete review of their pay, resulting in the impasse.
However, the warring parties signed a “return to work” agreement on Thursday, which saw the workers reporting for duty the following day.

According to the deal, signed by Tšepong Pty Ltd (the employer), the Ministry of Health and Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), the hospital is expected to make another salary increase offer within five working days of the signing of the agreement.

The agreement, of which the Sunday Express has a copy, reads in part: “It was agreed between the parties that the affordability of any review of the structure of remuneration levels, (including the consideration of any back pay) would have to be addressed by the Government of Lesotho as it pertained to the funding provided to Tšepong by the government.

“A review of the affordability of additional funding to be directed to Tšepong could only be evaluated by the relevant governmental ministries and the applicable Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement.
“LEWA have raised this issue with the relevant government representatives who have committed the government to addressing the affordability issue within a period of one month from the date of signature of this agreement.
“It was also agreed that the affordability, for any adjustment to the salary increase in excess of the current offer which had contributed to the prevailing impasse, would be a matter for Tšepong through its management and contractual frameworks to evaluate.
“It was agreed that an upper limit for the increase would be at annual adjustment to the unitary fee.
“Tšepong management committed to submitting a revised final offer to LEWA within five working days and LEWA undertook to respond to this offer within five working days.
“If this offer is accepted by June 10, the agreed increase and any agreed back-pay (if applicable) would be processed in the June payroll”.

The agreement also addressed the issue of “no-work-no-pay”, and states: “The no-work-no-pay principle will apply, but it was proposed that staff would have the deductions for their strike days effected in two equal portions in the June and July pay runs.
But if there is a resumption of strike activity, all of the historical (outstanding) strike days, as well as any current days of strike, will be deducted in the same month of the said strike activity”.

The agreement also assured the workers would not be victimised for embarking on the strike, which the hospital insists was illegal, but the management has also indicated it reserves the right to initiate disciplinary action against those who were “allegedly involved in specific activity or actions that would be in contravention of the company’s disciplinary code”.
“There would also be no general disciplinary action taken against staff that stayed away from work during the current strike ending on May 16, but the company reserves the right to initiate disciplinary action against staff who were allegedly involved in specific activity or actions that would be in contravention of the company’s disciplinary code.
“The normal procedural processes applicable to the disciplinary code would apply,” the agreement reads.

The LEWA National Organiser, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, who signed the agreement on behalf of the workers, said at-least 75 percent of the workforce was expected to return to work on Friday.
“It was agreed that on Friday, 75 percent of the workers would return to work. We didn’t want to say 100 percent because we were aware that some of them might not be able to make it because of some problems, while some are still on sick leave after they were injured by the police during the strike,” Mr Seoaholimo said.
He insisted the workers were still expecting a review of their salaries, adding: “If Tšepong cannot afford it, then the government will have to do something about it.”

The hospital’s Public Relations Officer, Limpho Seeiso, on Friday also confirmed the strike was over.
“Employees who were on strike reported for work this morning (Friday). Those scheduled to be on duty this morning were here at the appointed time, while those scheduled to resume duty during the night or on other days will come back during their scheduled times,” Ms Seeiso said.
“Stakeholders in the resolution of the strike entered into a tripartite agreement yesterday (Thursday), effected from today (Friday).
“The government of Lesotho, through the Ministry of Health, Tšepong and representatives of the workers, entered into an agreement aimed at ensuring continuity of services while looking into a long-term solution to the employees’ grievances.”
Asked if the workers were performing their duties as expected, Ms Seeiso said:
“The employees only resumed their duties this morning, so it is still too early to comment on the working environment and execution of duties.
“It is not unusual following any disagreement for the two parties to approach one another with caution before normality resumes. However, to the best of my knowledge, service-provision is back to normal”.
Opened in October 2011 amid great fanfare, the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital is the result of a landmark Public Private Partnership (PPP) and is under the management of Tšepong (Pty) Limited.

Tšepong (Pty) Limited is comprised of South Africa’s Netcare Hospital Group (Pty) Ltd (40 percent); Excel Health Services (20 percent)- an investment company for Lesotho-based specialists and general practitioners ; Afrinnai Health (Pty) Ltd (20 percent)- an investment company for Bloemfontein-based specialists and doctors; D10 Investments (Pty) Ltd (10 percent)- the investment arm of the Mohloli Chamber of Business; and Women Investment Company (Pty) Ltd (10 percent)- a Basotho firm.

Touted as a model of PPP, the showpiece 390-bed hospital replaced the 100-year-old, crumbling 450-bed Queen Elizabeth II Hospital owned by government, and Tšepong (Pty) Limited is now only left with 13 years of its 18-year contract to manage the facility.

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