Nelson MannehMinister of Health Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh on Tuesday said the threat by nurses to go on strike on 1st September 2021 is unfortunate.
He said: “We are all aware of the allowance issue being discussed by the nurses and midwives and the threat to go on sit down strike on 1st September 2021. This is an unfortunate call and is a step that health workers should always refrain from.”
He added: “It is important that you all know that this government is very committed to the provision of high quality health care for the people of this country. In that vein, this government raised the salaries of all civil servants by 50% and the transport allowance from D500.00 to D1500.00. This equally benefitted the nurses. Within one year of coming into office, this government increased the night allowances of nurses in Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital by 100% and in some cases 200%.”
He said President Barrow’s government had ever since wanted to improve the take home pay of the nurses and other health care workers in this country.
He said: “At the level of the ministry, we started engaging various parties in this line and fortunately we got very good support as it is one of our strategies to improve the quality of services and reduce mortality and morbidity in our health facilities.”
Dr. Samateh said the allowance adjustments were reviewed and categorized and were to be in phases and this process started. During that period, they received a courtesy call from some executive committee members of the nurses and midwifery association.
“One of the main items put forward by the association was allowance issue for the in-charge allowance and for on call allowance for OIC’s. The ministry immediately asked them to provide a proposal. This proposal was brought, but only the OIC’s were going to benefit. At that point we told them that it should be comprehensive to include other staff since the other nursing staff also needs to be motivated. The executive committee members went back to review their proposal which was being awaited by us.”
The Minister of Health said during that period, the cabinet approved an allowance structure which was earlier approved by the national assembly for a few PHD holders and medical doctors who are moved from the hospitals to the central level to make their take home pay close to what their counterparts received in the hospitals. These PHD holders, he said include nurses, public health officers and laboratory scientist.
He said: “The allowance structure was based on what another ministry is benefiting from. This raised a lot of negative sentiments and I requested for those allowances to be put off and no one has ever been paid those allowances.”
“Even though we were working on the allowances for the nurses, the executive committee rallied nurses and threatened a strike sometime in June 2021. Government contacted them and discussions were held, headed by the Secretary General and Head of the Civil service.
Allowance suggestions were made and an agreement was made to pay the allowances at the end of August 2021. Work had since begun between the Secretary General’s office, Ministry of Health, Personnel Management Office and Ministry of Finance to be able to pay at the end of August 2021.”
Samateh said that the finalized document had to go back to cabinet for final approval which happened on 26th August, 2021. These very important steps take time and that made it difficult to put it in the payroll for August 2021, because the inputting into the payroll is closed by the 5th of any particular month, he added.
He said: “This was communicated to the executive committee of the nurses and midwives association who were reassured that payment will now be made at the end of September and it will be backdated to August. Unfortunately before this communication there were already threats of strike by some nurses and even after hearing this information, the threats of strike continued.”
The Minister reminds all nurses and other health care workers that they all chose this field of work for one reason and that is to provide services to the sick and needy.
“I am sure we all remember one of the favorite questions by the interview panel
before we gained admission into the various health institutions is ‘why do you want to be a nurse, doctor, public health officer, laboratory scientist, pharmacists, physiotherapist and so on’. The answer most of us gave was ‘to save lives’.”
The Minister continued “How come we are talking about striking when we know that, that could lead to loss of valuable, irreplaceable lives and suffering of our people? If the nurses strike, who may need the services of the nurses? Do we know? It could be any of us or anybody in the country. Does that not defeat our being some of the most compassionate people? It goes without saying that nothing, including money, conditions of service, personalities, politics, etc should ever come between you and your patients. Who is going to deliver that patient that you provided antenatal care for? Who is going to give those patients who are waiting for your medication?
Unfortunately, we have gotten information that politics is gradually infiltrating into our health services. Some politicians are instigating some people into going on strike in trying to make the health services a political football field.”
Samateh said that should be condemned in all forms as disease, sickness, accidents injuries know no boundaries.
He added: “We therefore need a functional system for whoever might need services. We also want to remind our dear nurses that they are all civil servants and ministry of Health staff first and foremost. Before being a member of the nurses and midwives association which is voluntary, they have contractual obligation to the government.”
He said no civil servant is given a job without applying and on appointment, their employees are given an appointment letter which stipulates the basic salary and all the allowances.
He said: “It certainly is ironical that after a while people come and say that must be mandatorily increased Even with that the government is very accommodating, very supportive and has agreed to your request to support health service delivery. This should be appreciated.
We however want to remind everyone that our work is guided by the General orders, public Service Commission regulations and code of conduct for the civil service and the personal procedures manual for the Gambia Civil Service.”