MASERU – Village health workers across the country have decided to stop work to protest non-payment of their outstanding wages beginning in March. In a letter to the Minister of Health, Semano Sekatle, through the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) the health workers have said they have decided to down tools because they hope that this step will bring positive and meaningful results to their right or entitlement.
The letter states: “Since over the past two years after the establishment of the Village Health Workers policy regarding on how the Village Health Workers should be paid, the said Village Health Workers have been lamenting how the Ministry of Health treated them which has shown a flagrant disregard of the national labour laws as well as the constitution of the country including the policy.”
The letter further notes that the reason for delay of payment is because the Ministry of Health is waiting for authority to process the payments from the Public Service and Commission. The workers, however, find this reasoning invalid because the ministry was fully aware from last year when they received authority that it will be valid for only one year and that the ministry ought to apply for authority at least two or three months prior to the expiry of the current authority.
LEWA general secretary, Advocate Hlalefang Seoaholimo, told Public Eye that LEWA intends to sue the government after today (Friday July 22) if the workers do not receive their payments as stated in the letter to the minister. Seoaholimo said some of the grievances of the village health workers include the need of Personal Protective Equipment, and they find themselves having to attend to patients without it.
He said some of their other grievances are that they are not provided with transport even for emergencies such as when they have to travel long distances with pregnant women to transport them to the clinic or hospital. In an interview Sekatle said he is still waiting for authority from the Ministry of Finance to pay the workers. He noted that even though his ministry knew ahead of time when the previous authority would expire, the ministry could not apply for a renewal before government’s new financial year.
He confirmed that the workers’ wages are budgeted for and will definitely be paid immediately after authority is approved. Speaking to Public Eye a health worker from Qacha’s Nek, ’Maphoka Setofolo, told this publication that as village health workers they struggle to make ends meet as they sometimes feel compelled to assist patients with food because they cannot encourage someone to take medication without having eaten.
Setofolo added that they do not receive their payments on a regular date even though they receive it quarterly. “Unless we fight to get equipment like first aid and rubber gloves we will never get them.” Another village health worker in Mafeteng told this paper in an interview that besides the first-aid kits, they need to be provided with warm winter clothing.