Salary dispute grinds Scott Hospital services

 MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Healthcare workers and support staff at the cash-strapped Scott Hospital in Morija, around 45km south of the capital Maseru, vow to press on with their ongoing work go-slow, to press demand for payment of their May salaries. The demonstration, which started on Monday this week, continues despite pleas from patients coming from the surrounding villages the hospital serves that the workers avert industrial action.

Public Eye has been made to understand by Scott Hospital Administrator, ’Matšepo Molibeli, that the hospital is bankrupt and has no reserve account with money they can use during a crisis like this. Molibeli revealed that the late payment of staff is not a new occurrence at the hospital, and though she does not have all the information pertaining to the matter, this dates back to 2018.

This is only her fourth month in the management of the hospital, and she explained she can only bear witness to late payments that occurred in February. She said on March 1 when she arrived at the hospital the staff was complaining that they have not been paid, adding that the salaries of February were paid later on March 3. On the non-payment of May salaries Molibeli said the hospital is still waiting for a subvention from government to secure the money to effect the salary payments.

She said as per communication with the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) the hospital had hoped that by the end of the month the money would have already been paid into their account. “Like I said, I am new here and this will take time. However, as of now we are trying to find ways to pay the staff while still waiting for the subvention. Since May 20, I have been communicating with CHAL and made them aware that we have not received the subvention.

“CHAL gave us hope that by now there will be money to pay salaries. Had we known that the money will still have not been paid, we would have found ways to borrow money and pay the salaries. But we are working on finding the money so that we can pay salaries,” she said. Molibeli continued that the hospital was planning to set up a reserve account from which they will pay salaries in case of late payment of the subvention by the government.

These developments have seen health services stopped at the Morija health facility following commencement of a go-slow by the hospital staff demanding immediate payment of their May salaries. Molibeli echoed the hospital staff on the cause of the strike, also confirming that the strike started on Monday afternoon and that services are now only being delivered by the hospital’s skeleton staff.

Molibeli said the staff informed her that they will only resume work after receiving their May salaries. She said services were only affected on Monday since the strike was unexpected, adding the pharmacy department closed immediately and patients were not given medication on time.

She, however, noted that they ensured that such patients get their medication before going home while other patients received their medication the following day through village health workers. Molibeli said they even called their health centres and asked that their patients be given drugs. Still on Monday, she said, they made an arrangement that all departments have one person on standby, which are heads of those departments.

She claimed, though, that the hospital’s services returned to normalcy on Tuesday. In an interview with Public Eye a nurse at the hospital, Motlatsi Matlole, said the workers decided to down tools on Monday afternoon after failure by the hospital management to explain and inform them about the late salary payments – which has been going on for years.

He said they usually get their salaries the 25th of every month, but pointed out that “since 2018 we have been receiving our salaries days after the last day of the month.” Matlole told Public Eye that they have communicated and voiced concern over these delayed payments issue with the hospital management since 2018 but their grievances have not been addressed to date. They have been told that their May salaries are late because the government has not yet released the hospital’s subvention’ he added.

Matlole said they aim to down tools until their salaries are paid and “the latest update is that the money is in the hands of the Central Bank of Lesotho and will be later deposited into CHAL’s account which will, in turn, deposit it into the hospital’s account. He said as a result of the strike health services have been slowed down as only skeleton staff is attending to patients, adding each department is allocated one person to offer services.

“We have tried talking to the management about this matter and we were told that the matter is beyond them. This has become the norm but this year it is worse. “We are struggling, our loans, rents and policies are in errears. We are concerned of the impacts of these late payments. We do not have transport money, let alone food,” Matlole articulated. When Public Eye visited the hospital this week, the hospital staff had blocked entrance to the hospital preventing any movement in or out of the hospital premises.

Some patients were gathered outside the gate of the hospital, while others were returning home after being discouraged by the commotion. Only patients that arrived in the very early hours of Wednesday were attended to by the skeleton staff. Mampho Makhetha, 35, is one of the patients who were standing outside the gate with hope that she would finally be attended to. She is seven months pregnant and comes from Ha Tšilo, in rural area of Matsieng.

She said she has travelled a long distance to finally get to the hospital and failure to get services yesterday will mean she will have to go back home and return to the hospital some other day. Makhetha and other patients were denied entry to the hospital and were even told that even if they were allowed to the premises, they still will go back home without their medication as the hospital has none.

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