7 January 2013

Mozambique: Government Seeking Solution for Public Sector Wages

Maputo — The Mozambican government is doing all in its power to find resources to raise the wages not only of doctors, but also of nurses, teachers and other public servants, Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina declared on Saturday, at a meeting in his office provoked by the threat that doctors in the national health service will go on strike as from Monday.

Health Minister Alexandre Manguele told AIM that Vaquina worked with him, with the Minister of the Public Service, Vitoria Diogo, and with Deputy Finance Minister Pedro Couto in an attempt to find a solution.

Manguele was optimistic that “a lot of progress has been made”, and the Ministry of Finance is doing the calculations to see to what extent it is possible to raise the wages of public servants.

The Minister stressed that it was not just doctors who felt their wages should be increased. “It would not be fair or acceptable to increases wages only for doctors, and leave out the nurses, who spend more time with patients in the wards”, he said.

Manguele regretted that the Mozambican Medical Association (AMM), which claims to represent the doctors, has been imposing very tight deadlines in its negotiations, taking no account of the advances already made. He could not understand why the AMM was insisting on a nationwide strike as from Monday, while the government was doing all in its power to meet the doctors’ demands – particularly as the AMM leadership had been informed of Vaquina’s Saturday attempts to reach a solution.

“I explained to the doctor’s representatives the details of the working meeting we had on Saturday with the Prime Minister”, said Manguele. “I explained all the progress made which will certainly lead to a solution”.

But the AMM took no account of this, and simply issued strike ultimatums.

Manguele said a strike would only be justified if the government was not seriously considering the request for a wage increase. The matter had to be studied carefully, he insisted, “because in a poor country such as Mozambique, wages can only be raised when we are certain where the money will come from”.

He denied AMM claims that the government had already presented its proposal for a doctors’ wage rise, and also allegations that the government wanted to cut the basic wage for doctors from 20,000 meticais (about 680 US dollars) to 18,000 meticais a month. No doctor has a total salary of less than 30,000 meticais a month, and specialists in the large cities earn around 50,000 meticais a month, he noted.

Specialists who agree to work in rural areas can earn much more. When the various allowances for which they are eligible are taken into account, their total salary can reach almost 100,000 meticais a month, Manguele said.

Manguele did not believe that the strike will paralyse Mozambican hospitals. The AMM itself has promised to keep the emergency services running, and Manguele believed that many other doctors would put the health of the public above their personal interests and would ignore the strike call.

The Health Ministry has described the strike as “illegal”, partly because strikes should only be called by trade unions (and the AMM is a professional association rather than a union), and partly because the right to strike in the public administration has not yet been regulated.

The AMM denies that there is anything illegal about its strike call, and at a Saturday press conference the AMM chairperson, Jorge Arroz, instructed all AMM members not to undertake any work that is not of an emergency nature

This means that doctors will be on hand to deal with any cases in which patients’ lives are at stake. Thus emergency surgery will still be carried out, as will interventions to treat urgent paediatric and gynaecolocial cases.

But all routine work will be shut down. There will be no ordinary doctor’s appointments of any kind during the strike – even appointments for the chronically ill will be cancelled, and no surgery that is not regarded as emergency will be carried out.

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