In a petition handed to the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health yesterday, the federation of public service unions said it did not agree that as providers of an essential service, health workers could not bargain for better pay and/or withdraw their labour as a last resort.
After a slow march from GSS Grounds to Town Hall in Gaborone, BOFEPUSU handed its petition to the PS, Molataamo Malefho. In it, the union federation said if health workers were indeed an essential service, the government owed them benefits due to employees so classified, given that some of them had been in employment for the past 25 years, they said.
"The recent rule nisi is a deliberate miscarriage of justice, which will not bind us in any way and shall not be allowed to prevail," the petition said, referring to a May 6 Industrial Court order for essential service workers to return to work.
It challenged their conditions of service, saying health workers continued to perform duties outside their scope of practice without compensation. "Essential service employees are not renumerated for among others risk, dirt, standby, shift and night duty," the petition said.
"This unfair labour practice prevails (sic) under the pretext that they receive a fixed overtime allowance which seems to exacerbate their exploitation given the lack of clarity as to who amongst health sector workers is entitled to 24-26 days payment." The striking workers called for a review of existing overtime and hours of work in 24-hour facilities to be aligned with provisions of the Public Service Act.
"There are no schemes of service, no job effectiveness descriptions, inadequate and limited opportunities/cadre development and further studies which exacerbates their exploitation as many workers remain untrained and post basics qualification are not recognised or compensated for," said the petition.
It drew attention to staff shortages, excessive workloads, and lack of accommodation in sensitive sectors like health. The petition criticised the "undesirable" and "expensive" practice of referring patients to South Africa because of lack of equipment and shortage of expertise and supplies after 45 years of independence.
The union federation said mismanagement of the relocation of primary health care to the Ministry of Health had resulted in disparities in salaries and wages as well as in poor maintenance of equipment. The union federation criticised the government for "intimidation by convening unlawful meeting(s) with some of our members, providing misleading information about the strike, (and) replacement of labour .... "In view of these blatant unlawful acts, we remain resolute not to allow (ourselves) to be deceived or confused."