10 January 2013

Mozambique: AMM and Health Ministry Prepared to Resume Talks

Maputo — The Mozambican Medical Association (AMM) has declared that it is willing to resume negotiations with the Ministry of Health about the causes of the current doctors’ strike – but only if the government ends all “threats and intimidation” against doctors and trainee doctors.

The AMM was not specific, but it seems to be referring to reports from some districts of attempts by local administrators and the police to coerce striking doctors back to work.

The AMM letter, delivered to the Ministry on Wednesday afternoon, said the Association is “completely open” to discuss doctors’ wages, the key issue that sparked off the strike.

But to ensure “a calm and serene environment”, not only should there be an end to all intimidation, but the discussions should be attended by “the body competent to solve the wages question” – presumably a reference to the Finance Ministry.

The AMM also wants “an external observer” to witness future dialogue, and suggests that this could be the country’s main trade union federation, the OTM (Mozambican Workers’ Organisation).

At a Wednesday press conference, the Ministry’s spokesperson, Martinho Djedje, said the government is considering a wage increase for all health workers, ad more details would be given “at the appropriate time”. He added that the government had been working on such an increase before the doctors’ strike began on Monday.

Djedje added that the Ministry is open to further dialogue with the AMM in order to end the strike, but did not mention the pre-conditions demanded by the AMM.

As for the impact of the strike, the AMM and Ministry accounts remain wildly divergent. The AMM is sticking to its claim that over 90 per cent of its members are on strike. It quantified this as 987 doctors and 137 trainee doctors (there are a total of 1,274 Mozambican doctors in the national health service).

Djedje, however, said that while more than 70 doctors had not shown up for work at Maputo Central Hospital (HCM), in the rest of the country the number of doctors who had joined the strike did not exceed 10 per cent.

Most of the strikers at HCM, he added, are trainee doctors.

It is difficult to count the number of strikers, since the AMM has repeatedly promised that its members will guarantee all emergency services.

So doctors carrying our urgent surgeries, or attending to births, are at work, but may still consider themselves to be on strike.

To cope with the strike, in some provinces doctors who are not on strike are working double shifts, and a heavier than normal work load is also falling on the shoulders of foreign doctors employed in the health service.

In both Maputo and the northern city of Nampula, doctors from the Military Hospitals, have been sent to help fill the gap in the civilian hospitals caused by the strike.

Djedje also warned that striking doctors will be marked as absent from work without justification. This will lead to loss of wages for the days on strike, and the doctors could also face internal disciplinary proceedings under the General Statute of State Functionaries (which regulates labour relations inside the state apparatus, including the health service).

While in some quarters, this has been described as “a threat”, in reality it is perfectly normal, anywhere in the world, for workers not to be paid for days they are on strike. That is why trade unions who can afford to do so set up strike funds.

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