Nurses Issue Ultimatum

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By Kuvee Kangueehi and William Mbangula Windhoek and OSHAKATI Close to 300 nurses who held a peaceful demonstration in Windhoek yesterday have given the Ministry of Health and Social Service an ultimatum of 30 working days to address their demands or face a national nurses’ strike. The nurses are demanding that the ministry sets up a date with the nurses’ leadership, namely the Namibian Nurses Union (Nanu) to discuss a number of issues. In Oshakati, also about 300 nurses, porters and cleaners from Oshakati State Hospital handed a petition to the Director of Health, Dr Naftali Hamata. Nanu Coordinator in Oshana Region, Eva Velikoshi, expressed her satisfaction with the demonstration because no patients were neglected in the hospitals and the whole process was peaceful to the end. Issues raised in the petitions included the overtime rate for work done on Sundays and public holidays, the proposed salary structure and an election to be held between Nanu and Napwu to determine who should be the sole bargaining agent for nurses and security orderlies. The demonstration started exactly at 12h00 and nurses assembled in front of the Windhoek State Hospital before they proceeded to the head office of the ministry. The nurses, most of whom had worked the previous night shift, carried placards with various messages. Some of the placards read: “Shangula, why are you refusing to speak to us?” and “glory be to our union – Nanu”. The demonstrators were shouting down Napwu: “Napwu you have betrayed us!” Some Oshakati placards read: “We are demanding better wages for service we render”; “We want fixed overtime”; “Nurses belong to NANU not to NAPWU”; “Same salary for same category”; “Cleaners and porters support nurses”; “Nurses need fair treatment”; “Bring back old time rate”; “Kamwi and Shangula stop threatening us”; “We have rights just like you”; “If nursing is a calling when will you be called?” The demonstrators, who used their lunch break, marched from Yetu Shopping Centre to the regional director of health’s office. Dr Hamata received the petition in the company of Oshakati Hospital matron Lelly Nunes. The nurses at St Martin Hospital of the Roman Catholic Church at Oshikuku also demonstrated and handed a petition to the regional councillor’s office. The General Secretary of Nanu, Abner Shopati, led the demonstration in the capital and read the petition before handing it over to senior health officials who received it on behalf of the minister. Shopati said the nurses are indisputably the backbone of the health team in the country but when it comes to service benefits, they are at the receiving end. “We are being discriminated against by the ministry in comparison with our colleagues, namely medical doctors and pharmacists.” Shopati charged that medical doctors and pharmacists have fixed overtime on top of their salaries and doctors even claim what is termed casualty overtime on top of the fixed overtime. He added that the ministry should be fully aware that Nanu represents the majority of nurses and if the ministry refers Nanu to Napwu, it is an insult of the highest order. The general secretary also said that after the Wascom recommendations and implementation, the ministry improved the salary structure and benefits of medical doctors, social workers, pharmaceutical staff and the health programme. The senior health official who received the petition promised to deliver it to the minister, saying because of the long list of demands, it might take a bit of time for the ministry to respond. Some health officials who sympathized with the nurses also joined the demonstration, while some nurses who previously worked at the state hospital also came to give moral support. On the other hand, the demonstrators at Oshakati handed their petition to Dr Hamata, who did not address them. However, Nanu’s coordinator in Oshana, Velikoshi said: “This is a great achievement for the nurses in Namibia. For the first time as professionals we had a chance to express our feelings and grievances freely. We were expecting to have more people but some of them may have been intimidated not to participate. We are happy that no single patient was neglected during the 30 minutes’ demonstration,” she said. Asked about possible punitive measures by their employer, Velikoshi noted that the nurses are living in a democratic society and they have every right to express themselves in a peaceful and orderly manner. After all, she added, the nurses did not violate any law because the demonstrators were either on leave, or they utilised their lunch time for the occasion. Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, said that service to patients was not in any way affected by the demonstration of the nurses. “Those who were free demonstrated and patients were not negatively affected at all, as those who were on duty took care of them,” replied Dr Shangula when asked by New Era whether hospital operations and patient care were disrupted by the demonstration.