Ministry Out to Calm Down Nurses

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK In an attempt to calm the nerves of anxious nurses around the country, officials at the Ministry of Health and Social Services are undertaking an urgent tour to all health districts this week. Confirming this to New Era recently, the Health Minister Dr Richard Kamwi said he gave directives to a steering committee last week to find ways to address the nurses and ensure that they understand the situation on the ground. “I requested the permanent secretary to address the nurses so that they may not be misled. What is lacking in this whole nurses’ issue is information,” said Kamwi, who had to postpone his leave due to the recent demonstration by nurses and their demands for increased pay and overtime. The minister will make his first stop in the south either on Tuesday or Wednesday this week to address nurses at one assembly point in Keetmanshoop. From there, he will proceed to Engela in the north, while Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Petrina Haingura will leave for Outapi, and the Health Permanent Secretary Dr Kalumbi Shangula for Oshakati. Shangula addressed nurses at the Windhoek Central and Katutura hospitals last week. The latest trips come in the wake of the recent nurses’ demonstrations countrywide over perceived low salaries and lack of overtime. Kamwi said the demonstration by nurses under the Namibia Nurses Union (Nanu) was “unprofessional” and “a shame”. He explained that it is government who is the employer of all civil servants and that the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) is the sole bargaining agent and not Nanu. “The ministry is only a government institution and not an employer. If they (nurses) go outside that framework they will be tampering with the law. No one is above the law,” said Kamwi. Despite the stern warning by Kamwi for the nurses not to go ahead with the demonstration about a week ago, the nurses were adamant that they would not be intimidated into standing back and went ahead with the demonstration, carrying placards. They handed a petition to the health ministry. Under the leadership of Nanu, they gave the ministry a 30-working days ultimatum to look into their grievances. However, during an interview with New Era, Kamwi described the act by the nurses as unprofessional. “For nurses to toyi-toyi demanding more money while patients wait – I took it as most unprofessional. It was very unprofessional … it was a shame,” he said, however adding that no patients were negatively affected by the recent demonstration and that not all nurses took part in the demonstration. According to a survey conducted last year, Namibian nurses are the highest paid in terms of salaries in Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. To substantiate, Kamwi pointed to a comparative survey between Namibia and South Africa conducted last year. For instance, a Namibian enrolled nurse gets between N$49 665 (lowest notch) and N$62 859 per year, while in the Republic of South Africa the very same nurse gets from N$49 227 up to the highest notch of N$57 150. A registered nurse in Namibia gets between N$80 280 and N$91 968, while in South Africa they earn between N$72 096 and N$83 703 per year. For a senior registered nurse the salary rates in Namibia are N$95 307 to N$113 487 and in South Africa, the salary ranges between N$89 805 and N$104 265 per year. A chief registered nurse gets between N$116 517 and N$130 593, while in South Africa the very same earns N$111 528 to N$129 283. It is against this background that Kamwi feels that Namibian nurses are not underpaid. He added that most of the grievances highlighted in the petition are “devoid of any truth”, and that the ministry is ready to take up the matter to its final conclusion. The case of the nurses is now in the hands of the Office of the Prime Minister.