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Call allowance saga: Drama leaves doctors’ strike in limbo

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Ntsoaki Motaung

Dr. Senekale Senekale, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the Lesotho Medical Association (LMA), has revealed that the association has agreed to suspend its strike regarding unpaid call duty allowances following tense discussions with the Ministry of Health.

Just days after the LMA hinted at a return to strike action, an urgent meeting was convened at the behest of the Minister of Health, Selibe Mochoboroane, where both parties settled on maintaining the strike stance.

Senekale cited the ministry’s assertion that approximately 80 percent of doctors had been compensated and a commitment that all doctors would be paid by the end of the week as pivotal in the decision-making process.

“The Minister and Ministry officials claimed that 80 percent of doctors received their payments, and they assured us that everyone would be paid by Friday (today),” Senekale clarified.

However, he expressed reservations about this figure, stating the association would verify the numbers before confirming.

“While the Ministry claims 80 percent payment, we define payment when the money reflects in our accounts, not just when paperwork is completed,” he asserted, highlighting a fundamental difference in interpretation between the ministry and the association.

Despite acknowledging that several doctors received partial payments, Senekale underscored the association’s decision not to resume the strike at present.

The LMA plans to closely monitor the situation post-Friday, awaiting the anticipated completion of payments as communicated by the ministry.

This latest development comes in the wake of a statement released by the LMA, revealing their decision to halt overtime duties due to the ministry’s failure to honour the agreed-upon disbursement of call allowances.

“LMA regrettably notifies the nation of the unfortunate decision by its members to stop working overtime due to the failure of the Ministry of Health to pay money owed to doctors for call allowance,” the association asserted in a statement issued last Friday, expressing deep concern over the ministry’s failure to honour financial commitments.

Highlighting the chronology of events, the association recalled the origin of this struggle in March 2023, stemming from the ministry’s consistent non-payment of call allowances to doctors since 2019, escalating the mounting tensions between healthcare professionals and the ministry.

Moreover, the statement delineated the temporary suspension of the strike on September 20 this year, following comprehensive discussions and agreements between the LMA and the ministry of health.

The agreement outlined two crucial points: the ministry’s commitment to settle all outstanding call allowance claims for all doctors by December 1, 2023, and the resumption of call duties by doctors from October 1, 2023, with corresponding payments by the end of November alongside November salaries.

Expressing disappointment, the LMA underscored the ministry’s failure to uphold either of the agreements, compelling the association and its members to cease calls immediately until the ministry fulfills its financial obligations to all doctors.

“Sadly, the Ministry of Health did not uphold either of the two agreements stated above. This leaves the Lesotho Medical Association and its members with no option but to stop calls with immediate effect pending payment of call allowance to ALL Doctors owed by the Ministry of Health,” the statement lamented, expressing the gravity of the situation.

The association, while acknowledging its efforts to collaborate with the ministry, expressed deep concern about the substantial number of doctors yet to receive their call allowances, including those for October 2023, despite the ministry’s assurances.

In a fervent plea to address this pressing issue, the LMA urged the government of Lesotho, particularly the ministry of health, to mobilise all resources to resolve this critical matter, emphasising the crucial need for health services beyond regular working hours for Basotho.

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