Nurses in Namibia have given the government until Friday to pay their overtime allowances for working on Sundays and public holidays or face a mass protest that they said will paralyze health institutions in the country. The Ministry of Health in April this year reduced by half the nurses’ payment for working on Sundays and public. The nurses said their action was necessary after fruitless efforts to get the government to negotiate with them. Abner Shopati, the general secretary of the Namibian Nurses Union (NANU) said they are also planning to sue the government if it fails to meet their demands.
“The problem that the nurses are facing is that the ministry of health and social services took a unilateral decision to reduce their rate for work done by nurses on Sundays and public holidays, and the decision was implemented retrospectively. As a result, the nurses said the ministry cannot do that and want to engage the ministry in a negotiation. But the ministry refused to meet us,” he said.
Shopati said the nurses are displeased not only because of the ministry’s refusal to meet them, but also because of the failure to communicate its action.
“They did not forward an argument to us as to why they don’t want to negotiate with us. That is why the nurses decided to give the ministry an ultimatum so that the government would instruct the ministry to negotiate directly with the nurses,” Shopati noted.
He said the nurses, through their lawyer, tried on several occasions to convince the ministry to negotiate with them but without any success.
“We contracted our lawyer at least to write to the ministry so that both parties can sit and negotiate. But the ministry responded saying that they are not owing the nurses any money, and that the ministry reserves the right to claim some over paid money to nurses since 1998,” he said.
Shopati accused the country’s labor commissioner of playing games by wrongfully backing the ministry of health and social services.
“The Office of the Labor Commissioner is trying to employ technical maneuvers. They requested minutes of our meeting with the ministry, which did not take place at all. How can we send them minutes when we had no meeting?" Shopati asked.
He said Namibian nurses are always discriminated against, citing payment and incentives to other health professionals, which he said, excludes nurses.
“To be specific, doctors are claiming what is being called casualty overtime over and above the fixed overtime. Medical interns are receiving salaries higher than a chief control registered nurses, if overtime and forensic allowances are included," Shopati said.
Meanwhile under the old system, Namibian nurses received double payment on Sundays and public holidays but Shopati and fellow nurses claim the change was only made for nurses while other health workers are still being paid under the old system.
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