343 nurses fired at World bank lauded hospital

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…amidst Covid-19 pandemic

By Rets’elisitsoe Khabo

Yesterday, Kingdom Digital News (KDNews) witnessed handing over of dismissal letters by Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) to 343 nurses who downed tools in demand of higher pay after the hospital was turned into a Covid-19 centre.

According to the Lesotho Nurses Association Secretary-General ’Mamonica Mokhesi, the nurses have been dissatisfied with their pay since 2012, a time which their demands for higher pay ended after a nasty assault by police who opened fire on striking nurses leaving them wounded in 2014.

“We had to return back to work and we suffered a lot following that failed strike which ended after police shot at us for having conducted a lawful and peaceful strike,” Makhesi said.

Now, seven years down the line, Makhesi says the erection of a Covid-19 Centre by Lesotho government and deployment of highly paid nurses from the government purse irked the 343 nurses who are under the employment of the Ts’epong consortium running the hospital.

“Those nurses came to work at the Covid-19 centre as new entrants into the workplace. But they were already earning more than our members and they knew nothing about their daily duties being new at such a tertiary health care facility that has state of the art hospital equipment.

“The hospital decided that some of us will work in the Covid-19 centre while the new nurses that were supposed to work at the Covid-19 Centre were given tasks within the normal business of the hospital in order for us to teach them how we do things at the hospital.

“But, imagine having to teach a junior who is earning almost three times your own salary. Imagine having to work in a Covid-19 centre and have no place to isolate yourself and bringing the risk of infection home daily with you. In some cases, nurses infected their families and it was business as usual.

“So, we came to a breaking point, hence the strike,” said Makhesi.

In the middle of the strike, various stakeholders in government and parliament had been roped in to mediate while a labour dispute had been filed in the Labour Court waiting to be heard.

But, amid the labour dispute concerning the nurses continued strike that has crippled the hospital yesterday the hospital handed 343 dismissal letters to the striking nurses.

The hospital is run as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), a lauded as a partnership to transform health care in Lesotho by the World bank’s International Finance Corporation that advised Lesotho’s government on its partnership with the Ts’epong consortium, led by South African health care investment holding company NETCARE.

But all has not been well as the consortium has in its few years in operation been seen as the largest Lesotho health care budget guzzler taking more than 500 million yearly in the country with exorbitant fees charged on government whenever a 20 000 patients’ quota is exceeded.

A copy of a dismissal letter seen by KDNews reads that on February 24th, the labour court interdicted the ongoing strike with immediate effect, however, nurses still participated in an unlawful strike despite an interim court order obtained by the hospital.

The dismissal letter further reads that on February 26, the hospital’s management issued a final ultimatum which instructed all nursing staff to return to work “effective immediately” however nurses still opted to continue with their “unlawful strike and failed to respond to the ultimatum”.

The dismissal letter also reads that the hospital’s management consistently stressed to all nursing staff that Ts’epong views this conduct as a very serious offence given the continuing disruptions to patients care and the operations of the hospital and the filter clinics.

The hospital’s management said the nurse’s actions have displayed intentions to discontinue rendering services to the hospital and as a result of the participation in the unlawful strike action, the management believes the trust relationship has been broken down beyond redemption.

“After careful consideration, the management of Ts’epong has thus decided to terminate your employment with immediate effect for participation in an unlawful strike,” said the hospital’s management.

Mothepane Thahane the hospital’s public relations officer confirmed to KDnews that the hospital’s management has decided to terminate the employment of nurses due to their participation in the unlawful strike.

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