Angry Nurses Boycott Meeting

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By Kuvee Kangueehi Windhoek Tension between nurses and hospital management in the Khomas Region is rising after nurses yesterday decided to boycott a meeting organized by the Permanent Secretary of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, at the Windhoek Central Hospital. Shangula and his management waited almost an hour and then decided to leave after less than five nurses showed up for the meeting. The meeting was expected to discuss the interpretation of the Public Service Staff Rules with regard to overtime, Sunday and night work remuneration, which has been a bone of contention between the nurses and the hospital management. The latest incident also heightens the possibility of a demonstration by the nurses, which they reportedly plan to hold next week Wednesday. A clearly disturbed Shangula said he did not know why the nurses decided to boycott the meeting but noted that he was aware that many of them were angry because a meeting which was planned for Monday had been cancelled. He explained that the cancellation of the meeting on Monday was because a circular from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), which he was supposed to discuss with the nurses, was not ready. The PS also dismissed media reports that the Monday meeting was cancelled at the eleventh hour because he had other commitments. “This is not true, the postponement was done on Friday and I was available on Monday.” Shangula also strongly refuted allegations that he is only willing to speak to Napwu and refusing to speak to the nurses. “I only said that when it comes to negotiations on conditions of service, like re-grading and salary increases, only Napwu has that mandate to negotiate with the OPM on behalf of the public servants, through the joint negotiating teams.” He added that he believes that the bone of contention between the hospital management and the nurses is all about how to calculate the overtime. He said the nurses should pay special attention to the Labour Act of 1992, which makes a distinction between employees who work a normal 40-hour workweek from Monday to Friday, and those who have a workweek of 40 hours but such workweek includes Sundays and public holidays. “This is what we failed to distinguish and observe in the ministry.” Shangula further claimed that the ministry has the welfare of its employees at heart. “It is this ministry which facilitated the payback for overtime of nurses dating from 1992, which involved an amount of more than N$100 million and it is not our intention to deprive any employee of what is rightly his or hers.” However, some of the nurses New Era spoke to said the ministry is being very arrogant and even refusing to speak to their union, the Namibia Nurses Union (Nanu) and instead is only willing to speak to Napwu. “We are not making any unreasonable demands or making wrong calculations, the ministry should not try and fool us.” The nurses also alleged that the ministry is diverting funds allocated to them for overtime to pay the Kenyan nurses. They vowed that if Shangula were not prepared to speak to Nanu, they would not speak to him. “Nanu is the nurses and the nurses are Nanu, so if he wants to speak let him speak to the Napwu nurses.” The nurses also vowed to go ahead with the planned demonstration which could cripple operations at the two biggest state hospitals. Regarding the planned demonstration, Shangula said it is the nurses’ democratic right but they must do it in accordance with the legal framework in place. “I have noted that some of you (nurses) engage in reckless language in addressing the leadership of the ministry, but I advise you who engage in these polemics not to stoop that low.”