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CHAL Joins Health Workers’ Strike as Crisis Deepens in Lesotho

31 May 2024 by Limpho Sello

 Est Read Time: 5 min(s) 10 sec(s)

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The ongoing protest by health workers in the three districts of Qacha’s Nek, Thaba-Tseka, and Mokhotlong has now spread to include facilities run by the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) in these areas.

Additionally, health workers stationed in Leribe, Botha-Bothe, Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng have now initiated a go-slow in solidarity with their colleagues demanding increased hardship allowances.

The protesting health workers initiated a go-slow on May 13, 2024, to pressure the government to increase their hardship allowance from M275 to M1000 per month.

Health services in Qacha’s Nek, Thaba-Tseka, and Mokhotlong are collapsing, with patients calling on Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s administration to expeditiously address the striking workers’ demands to restore and improve services.

Workers representative Tanki Ranthimo has expressed sympathy for the public who need health services but criticised the government for failing to address the legitimate demands of health workers.

“The government seems not to care about the public since they are neglecting an issue that needs to be dealt with urgently,” he said.

The participation of CHAL health workers in the strike has complicated the situation. CHAL Advocacy and Communications Officer Lebohang Liphapang told Uncensored News that workers in CHAL facilities disregarded advice to follow proper procedures to address their hardship allowance related grievances in accordance with the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between CHAL and the Ministry of Health.

She said this MOU outlines the terms of the collaboration between CHAL and Ministry of Health, including the provision of health services by CHAL in return for government subvention.

“CHAL employees do not get their salaries from the public service but from the subvention provided by the government of Lesotho. Therefore, their queries need to be directed to CHAL to reach an agreement on how to address the issue, taking into consideration the terms of the MOU,” Liphapang stated.

CHAL calls for increased subvention

When asked what could happen if the government grants the plea of government employees to increase the hardship allowance from M275.00 to M1000.00, Liphapang said, “If things are done right, a review of our subvention would need to happen to cover that increase, as our workers duly deserve it.”

However, Liphapang was quick to point out that the government has not increased its subvention to CHAL for the past five years.

“CHAL has received the same budget for the past five years. This is despite always projecting in CHAL’s budget the necessary adjustments for inflation, operations, salaries, and other needs. They provide us with a scale of how much they will provide, hence we still get the same amount,” she explained.

She added: “Even this year, we are going to get a budget similar to the one we received this past year and three years prior, regardless of the inflationary adjustments and the submitted budget to the Ministry of Health.”

She emphasised that the only solution to the current challenge could be an MOU review.

“Things have changed since 2007, and the MOU should have been reviewed a long time ago. This is a significant issue that CHAL has been advocating for years. Even the Ministry can attest to this. We are still knocking on the Ministry’s doors to ask for this review and to change the terms in the MOU to accommodate current changes.”

She concluded by saying, “We would request to be considered for an increased budget to address this issue. Unfortunately, we have been told that we will receive the same budget as last year’s financial budget.”

Govt accused of silence

Meanwhile, the three-week health workers’ strike has spread to other hard-to-reach areas in the districts of Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek, Maseru, Leribe, Botha-Bothe, and Mafeteng, still without a government-led solution.

Government spokesperson Thabo Sekonyela stated that his superiors have not yet provided him with the outcome of the May 20, 2024, meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Justice Nthomeng Majara. The purpose of the meeting was to find a solution to address the grievances of the striking health workers.

Workers’ representative Tanki Ranthimo told Uncensored News on May 29, 2024, that the strike would continue until they receive a positive response from the government through the relevant ministries. He emphasised the need for the government to address this issue carefully and urgently to avoid more significant problems later.

“With this shutdown gaining momentum, who knows what will happen when the operating health facilities start to be burdened,” Ranthimo said.

Ranthimo mentioned that despite the strike, they have not received any feedback from the government. Although they learned through the media that the Ministries of Health, Public Service, and Finance held an urgent meeting to find a solution, Ranthimo said there has been no direct communication made to the protesters.

“We have only heard about the meeting through the media. No one has communicated with any of us since, and we are wondering how urgent our issue is when they have all gone mute about it. But we are not going to stop our shutdown if we do not get answers,” he said.

Repeated efforts to obtain a comment from the Ministry of Health were unsuccessful. Uncensored News will publish the Ministry’s response when it is provided.

Hospitals lack critical equipment

Besides the hardship allowance, Ranthimo highlighted several issues affecting health workers and service delivery in hardship areas. He argued that the government seems unaware of such as critical equipment like the X-ray machines are non-operational in Mokhotlong Hospital.  

“We are affected by loadshedding and lack a generator or fuel, forcing us to rely on our cellphone torches to see patients during nightspots,” Ranthimo said.

He added: “We are forced to work with our phone torches during the night shift. You can imagine trying to mend a wound of an injured patient using the light from a phone. These are some of the disturbing situations we work under.”

He further explained that: “We can’t remember the last time we received necessities like gas for heaters during these winter days. To execute our duties, we often have to compromise and use our already limited resources to assist patients.”

He said there have been instances where staff at Mokhotlong Hospital have gone without gas for two years. When the Ministry of Health does supply gas, Ranthimo alleged that the cylinders are too small to last long, accusing the ministry of purchasing household-sized gas cylinders.

The Ministry of Health had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication. Uncensored News will publish the response once it is provided.

Ranthimo stated that they have gone above and beyond with their limited resources and money, saying that they are determined to continue their strike until they receive the M1000.00 hardship allowance they requested.

“Our hope is that when the government decides to speak out, it will give positive responses, not threats like in their previous letter. We hope they will not take that direction because it will clearly backfire on them,” he concluded.

“The correct approach is for the government to communicate with us about the progress of the matter. Unfortunately, we are not interested in returning to the negotiating table as we have already done that. What we need to hear now is when the hardship increments will be implemented and at what stage the process currently is,” Ranthimo stated.

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