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Doctors announce countrywide strike

Business

Ntsoaki Motaung

Lesotho Medical Association (LMA) yesterday announced that doctors will from March 1, 2023, stop working at night and on weekends and public holidays.

In a statement, LMA said this was because, for a period of over five years, doctors in the public sector had been partaking in work beyond ordinary hours without pay.

“This includes working during nights, weekends, and public holidays without any form of remuneration,” read the statement signed by LMA president Dr Mojakisane Ramafikeng.

“LMA wishes to inform the general public that doctors will NOT be partaking in hospital duties that they are not paid for by the government of Lesotho from the 1st March 2023.

“This means doctors will not offer night duty (call) services (1700 to 0800), weekend, and public holiday services. Doctors will continue offering exceptional services within ordinary working hours and not beyond that until this matter is resolved,” Ramafikeng said in the statement.

He indicated that the decision was regrettable but indicated that it was not the doctors’ fault.

He said: “It is a result of unanswered calls for deliberation and complete disregard of our rights as employees and citizens.”

When contacted yesterday, the public relations manager for the ministry of health, ‘Mamolise Falatsa, indicated that she did not have information about the planned industrial action by doctors.

Ramafikeng yesterday said LMA had on the behalf of doctors, attempted to initiate peaceful deliberations “that have continuously failed to persuade the government of Lesotho to amend this injustice”.

According to the association, the high court declared in 2020 that not paying doctors their call allowances was unconstitutional in that it violated section 4(1)m of the constitution.

However, the association charged, the ministry of health has hitherto, not complied with the court ruling.

“Despite the decisive ruling in our favor, several steps were taken to engage with the ministry of health pertaining to this crucial matter but all efforts by LMA were met with complete silence from the Ministry of Health irrespective of the importance of this matter to doctors both native and expatriates,” Ramafikeng said.

He also stated that although their main issue currently was the call allowance, “the public should be aware that our bones to pick with the Health sector are vast and we shall strive to champion each for the sake of all Basotho”.

He said they were also bothered by the poorly staffed hospitals with extremely low doctor-to-patient ratio “yet there are unemployed Basotho doctors”, poorly equipped hospitals which make it impossible for patients to receive the best possible care in the hospitals, and “the collapsing service delivery on a large plane scale within our health sector”.

He said they are also bothered by “disproportionately paid call allowance at an unfounded rate,” unpaid roles and responsibilities within hospitals, and the lack of rural allowance.

In 2011, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said a large number of Basotho professionals, especially in the health sector looked for better opportunities abroad, contributing to the constant brain drain in the country.

IOM said physicians born in Lesotho were registered as working abroad, mainly in South Africa and most cited low wages, huge salary differences, better social lives, and better infrastructure as push factors.

The unprecedented overwork linked to shortages of doctors and other poor working conditions cited in the doctors’ petition highlight how vulnerable doctors who decide to remain in the country are.

Their lack of reward means they suffer from the impacts of poverty along with the patients they are supposed to care for.

In December last year, doctors at the Motebang Hospital in Leribe agreed to suspend their industrial action after health minister Selibe Mochoboroane had a meeting with them and convinced them to suspend their strike on the day it was supposed to start.

The doctors had said they would stop carrying out on-call duties with immediate effect citing nonpayment of their allowances.

In January this year, LMA said doctors across the country were relentless and expected the government to pay them their due on-call allowances before the end of January.

“The deadline of January 31 still stands as per the initial agreement of the meeting held with all the doctors…,” the Lesotho Medical Association (LMA) said in a notice to doctors.

The association said Mochoboroane promised that soon after the 2022 Christmas doctors should expect to get payments for call allowances.

“The executive wishes to inform all Doctors to remain calm as it deals with this sensitive issue which does not only affect doctors but the general population,” the document read.

“Doctors serve wholeheartedly every day. All available avenues at the disposal of the executive will be explored before any militant approach is undertaken,” it added.

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