Nurses hired for Covid-19 unpaid

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Some of the nurses temporarily employed by government to help fight the Coronavirus pandemic have still not been paid more than five months later, Public Eye has been told. In April last year, the Ministry of Health started employing additional nurses on a short-term basis to bolster the frontline in the country’s fight against Covid-19.

Some of the nurses who spoke to Public Eye on condition of anonymity this week said some were hired in April and December last year, others in January this year while a few more joined the medical workforce in February. This additional workforce, according to the disgruntled nurses, aided the fight against coronavirus to relieve pressure on those who were already working.

Lesotho confirmed its index case of Covid-19 in a press statement issued on May 13, and it became the last on the continent to record a case. It recorded its first death on July 9, by which time confirmed cases had climbed to 134. As at May 27 this year, Lesotho had over 10 800 confirmed cases with over 320 confirmed deaths. “We were placed in different government hospitals and clinics, including QMMH (Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital),” the nurses said.

“We did not start at the same time; some started in April last year while others started in December, and yet others in January this year and a few in February,” they also said. “Some got their salaries for the first two months but the following months’ salaries have been delayed up to now. Some have not gotten anything at all,” they added. Some, among those who were employed in April last year, have not gotten their salaries since October 2020, the nurses also claimed.

Efforts to get a comment from the ministry of health’s Principal Secretary (PS), Khothatso Tšooana, were unsuccessful yesterday as his mobile phone rang unanswered. PSs are generally the administrative heads of government ministries. Minister of health, Semano Sekatle, said the delay of workers’ salaries was purely an administrative matter, suggesting that Public Eye should contact administrative officers.

The ministry’s spokeperson, ’Mateboho Mosebekoa, acknowledged that some nurses had not been paid and said ministry of health understands their frustration but emphasized that they would be paid. “They were employed on short term contracts and are being paid in batches. They will eventually all be paid,” Mosebekoa said.

“Not all of them are nurses; some are data capturers and even those have not all been paid but they will all be paid,” she added and suggested that making payments was a process that has to conform with government rules, standards and procedures, and could be exceptionally long.

In April last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said nurses were on the frontline in fighting Covid-19 but indicated that “an alarming failure” to provide them with protective clothing, together with “unprecedented” overwork linked to global shortages and other poor working conditions highlighted how vulnerable they were.

Their dedication to prevent the coronavirus and care for those who have tested positive for the virus was also emphasized by the United Nations (UN) General Secretary António Guterres in April last year.

“Today, we are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you, as you work round the clock, putting yourselves at risk to fight the ravages of this pandemic,” said Guterres when addressing nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors and many others who work day and night to keep people safe.

However, recent developments in Lesotho have starkly shown that nurses’ expertise and their skills are not rewarded as WHO and UN would wish. This means they suffer not only from exposure to the virus but also from the impacts of poverty along with the patients they are supposed to care for. In March this year, QMMH fired over 300 nurses and nursing assistants, who were on strike, with immediate effect.

The nurses were on strike to force QMMH to give them same salaries at par with their counterparts in other government institutions. QMMH is government-owned referral hospital but is run by a private consortium called Tšepong comprising five companies; Netcare Healthcare Group, Afri’nnai of South Africa, Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments of Lesotho.

The Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) had indicated that QMMH nurses were paid about M9 000 a month, at least M4 000 a month less than their counterparts in other government-run hospitals, who were paid at least M13 000 a month. Following the dismissals, government announced it would employ all the fired nurses and deploy them to public health facilities across the country. Another announcement was made in April that the nurses would start working for government on May 1, a declaration which was hugely celebrated by nurses and their association.

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