Nurses strike looming?

The government and Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) last week failed to reach an agreement over outstanding issues emanating from the Nurses and Midwives Act, 1995. The parties had met for mediation at the Gaborone District Labour office last week Friday where the  union accused government of violating the Act by forcing nurses to perform non-nursing activities. BLLAHWU secretary general Ketlhalefile Motshegwa said starting this month they will be consulting with the nurses all over the country to solicit their opinion with a view to advise them not to report for work.

“We will not allow a situation where nurses are doing non-nursing duties which they are not paid for. They are doing pharmaceutical duties which they are not supposed to do. That on its own is manipulation and abuse,” he contended.
Motshegwa said the government needs to hire more people to perform such duties and allow the nurses to concentrate on nursing activities. “We took the matter to the Labour Office because we felt that nurses were exploited and we didn’t agree. This is the only government where nurses are practicing as general nurses while at the same time they are practising as midwives but are only paid for the duties of midwife. It only happens in Botswana, whereas in other countries nurses are paid for general nursing and midwifery as a combined job. We will not have our nurses performing dual roles which they are not paid for and  we have long asked the government to rectify that,” he said.

He added that for a long time they allowed the nurses to compromise and go beyond their call of duty and save lives, but now the situation was exploitative. “As the union we allowed our nurses to continue to help Batswana even though they are not supposed to do that hoping that the government will consider this matter. Now the exploitation continues. We have to acknowledge that as they are doing duties outside their line of duty , they are not  covered in times of danger, and that is not fair for them.  It is not a strike per say but to only tell the nurses to stick to their line of duty.  We agreed at one point with the government to come up with a task force to consider how we incorporate non-nursing duties into the nursing cadre and even how to remunerate them. Experts were engaged but because of the arrogance from the government side the whole thing was aborted,” he said.

Questioned whether they have considered that nurses are classified as essential service and are not allowed to strike, Motshegwa said they will not allow the government to label nurses as essential service workers while the treatment of their profession is perceived as non- essential. “It is all abuse. Even the criteria used for nurse promotions are secretive and corrupt. The government must know that they are dealing with people (nurses) rendering sensitive services,” he said.

The president of the Botswana Nurses Union (BNU), Lebogang Philip said the government tricked  them by classifying  these additional duties as  “task shifting and sharing duties” instead of non-nursing duties. “We have been engaging the Ministry of Health as Botswana Nurses Union on the matter. Our argument was that even though these are labelled as task shifting and sharing,  it only applies on the side of nurses as compared to other professions. As far as that issue is concerned, the Ministry of Health promised that it will do something about it but still nothing has materialised. We are having the meeting with the employer on the 17th October and this issue is on the agenda. We have to sit down with BLLAWHU and inform ourselves on the matter and on what was agreed upon. BLLAWHU’s position is not  necessarily our position,” he said.

Director of the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM), Carter Morupisi told Gazette in an interview that he was not aware of the matter. He said the matter has not yet reached his table or has neither been dealt with at a Ministerial level.