Nurses ordered to go back to work

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By Kefiloe Kajane

The Labour Court has ordered striking ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) (known as Tṧepong) nurses who have downed tools for three weeks, to go back to work and hammer out an amicable and long lasting solution with their employer.

Labour Court President Motlatsi Monoko further ordered both parties to appear before the court again on March 10 to report back.

This after Tṧepong dragged the 311 striking nurses and the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) to court on February 22 over the ‘illegal’ strike.

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Tṧepong was represented by advocate Napo Khatala and the nurses and LNA represented by advocate Nthati Pheko.

Delivering his judgement on Wednesday this week, court president Monoko indicated that the court had carefully considered both parties’ arguments and realised the sensitivity of the matter as it involves an essential service.  

“We have carefully considered the submissions of the counsels for both parties. We have further more considered the law that is applicable to this matter. It is our ruling that therefore this is not an application not to be granted.

“Let it be noted that this is a very serious and highly sensitive matter emanating from an essential service sector. It emanates from a hospital which undoubtedly falls under essential services as clearly defined by our law the labour order of 1992 as amended.

“It is our conviction that an everlasting and amicable settlement to whatever dispute that exists between an employer and employees in this one matter and all other, if any that are incidental in this matter in hand, should be reached sooner than later because this is an essential service sector that serves us all. This means we will be meeting again here on March 10,” Monoko said.

The Coalition of Health Professionals Associations in collaboration with Lesotho Workers Association had written to the minister of labour and employment Moshe Leoma to intervene over the prolonged salaries struggle at QMMH.

The letter indicted that the struggle has been going on for years and has led to nursing and pharmacy staff withdrawing from duty, a move that has for long affected all members, patients and Basotho at large.

The coalition therefore strongly advised the minister to act in accordance with the Labour Code Order 1992 with immediate effect to save the lives of Basotho.

The letter was handed over to the minister by the Coalition of Health of Health Workers.

The labour Code Order 1992 that the coalition based themselves on indicates that ‘for the purpose of this section of the Code the term ‘essential service’ is confined to undertakings that provide a service whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety of health of all or any part of the population of Lesotho.

“Where in the opinion of the minister the existence of action in pursuance of a trade dispute threatens the continuance of any essential service he or she may call upon the Commissioner of Labour to investigate and to report upon the facts of such dispute within 10 days.”

Speaking after receiving the letter, the minister of labour and employment Moshe Leoma promised to do all that is in his power to act accordingly. He said the ministry will not take long to answer the letter, but could not put a timeframe to it.

Health Professional Association deputy public relations officer Dr Mojakisane Ramafikeng said they will wait to hear from the minister, and will put their focus on what the law says. He said they cannot say much on what will happen except that they are hopeful that the minister will do what is expected.

Tṧepong Hospital, the public-private partnership is managed by the Tshepong consortium, led by Netcare, a leading South African health care provider. The facility and the associated filter clinics at Qoaling, Mabote, and Likotsi were part of the government of Lesotho’s strategic push to improve maternal health, reduce child mortality and combat HIV/AIDS.

The state-of-the-art hospital was officially inaugurated in 2011, with the hope of bringing modern, high-quality healthcare services to about half a million people—or a quarter of Lesotho’s population—living in Maseru district, and also serving the country as a revamped national referral and teaching hospital.

The World Bank Group provided technical assistance for designing and implementing the facility as a public-private partnership that is aligned with reforms in Lesotho’s health sector to increase access to primary healthcare services and referral care. A grant of $6.25 million was provided through the World Bank-administered Global Partnership for Output-Based Aid to support the process.

The 425-bed hospital was touted to provide several new services, including intensive care, that were not provided at Maseru’s old Queen Elizabeth II hospital.