New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Health Workers Could Strike

Health workers at the country's main referral hospitals in Windhoek are threatening to go on strike tomorrow, if their employer and the sanctioned negotiating team fail to respond to their demands within two working days.

It has emerged that the nurses intend to target essential services such as acute care, intensive care units, ambulance services and the maternity wards. The looming strike by nurses and other health workers comes against a backdrop of a recent salary increase of 8 percent for all civil servants, including nurses. Health workers at the Windhoek Central Hospital, Katutura State Hospital, as well as clinics around Windhoek have agreed that come tomorrow, they will down tools until their demands for restructuring, re-grading and better service conditions are met.

Over 100 health workers, including social workers, nurses, cleaners, kitchen workers, and ward labourers met in the Katutura State Hospital's nurses home dining hall to plan the strike.

During last Thursday's meeting they agreed a petition would be submitted to their employer, the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the government negotiating team, in which they demand restructuring, re-grading and better service conditions.

"We are not saying we are so inhumane, we are also tired. We have rights to fight for," Markus Kalipa, the spokesperson of the disgruntled health workers told the gathering during the meeting that took place between 12:00 and 13:40 last week Thursday.

"We are a critical backbone, but because we are no longer important let's strike and see if we are not important," said a health worker at the meeting.

"We are tired of meetings, we want our re-grading," said another health worker at the meeting.

The health workers are unhappy over the 8 percent increment that the government negotiating team bargained for civil servants.

Kalipa told those in attendance that salary restructuring is more like promotion.

Said another health worker who attended the meeting: "We want restructuring and not percentages. We don't want that 8 percent which they signed while they were sleeping. How can you sign a petition at 10 o'clock, it means you were sleeping and don't know what you were doing. When they were negotiating there were no professional nurses there." Kalipa urged health workers: "As soon as the strike commences we are going to stand there for 24 hours until we get a positive response in our favour. No one is going to be in the wards, please let us stand united and let us stand for one purpose."

He also warned against "elements who are instilling fear and elements who are trying to mislead us. We are going to deal with you accordingly." Last year, health workers, including nurses targeted the National Immunisation Days (NID's) campaign to demonstrate for restructuring, re-grading and better conditions of service.

After failing to secure an audience with the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, as well as his then Permanent Secretary, Kahijoro Kahuure, during the NID's the nurses marched to the office of Prime Minister Nahas Angula to deliver a petition.

Although the premier then said he was not their employer, he told the demonstrating health workers that he would pass on the petition to the relevant people - but from whom there has been no response to date, the health workers say.

About two weeks ago, health workers met with health minister Kamwi who was unable to give them 'satisfactory answers' to their questions. "All I can do is give all the information (to the government negotiating team)," Kamwi told the nurses at that meeting.

It was also heard at that meeting that the health ministry is scouting for nurses from Zambia, Tanzania and Russia.

"You look for nurses elsewhere while you are not addressing the issues here. The point is not that we are having a shortage (of nurses) people are resigning, that's the shortage, solve the issues locally before you go outside, we are not against the professionals that are coming (from outside) but face us first before you call them to come," remarked one health worker last Thursday. Foreign health workers are prohibited from striking.

"Although they (foreign nurses) have signed contracts, they'd better remain in their rooms and sleep," said one health worker in response to a question on whether foreign health workers, particularly nurses, should join the strike.

The strike has the potential to spread countrywide, the health workers threatened.

When approached for comment, Kamwi referred New Era to the government negotiating team led by Secretary to Cabinet, Frans Kapofi. Efforts to get comment from Kapofi were unsuccessful.

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