Monday, March 10, 2014

Nurses' dismissal final - Shamenda
By Kombe Chimpinde-Mataka
Fri 06 Dec. 2013, 14:01 CAT

LABOUR minister Fackson Shamenda says the UPND is inciting dismissed nurses to take action against the government.

But UPND spokesperson Charles Kakoma says the party is concerned with the manner in which the government is running the health sector. And Shamenda says ZCTU secretary general Roy Mwaba risks being arrested if he continues to incite nurses.

Reacting to the UPND's decision to mount a legal battle in defence of dismissed striking workers countrywide, Shamenda described as inhuman the opposition party's lack of regard for what patients went through when nurses were on an illegal strike.

Shamenda said the decision to dismiss the nurses was final and the government would not reverse it.

"This confirms the suspicions that people had that the strike could have been politically motivated because in the first instance, the people who should be sympathisers of the patients that were in hospital, they were going there and encouraging the nurses to continue being on strike in October when they staged the first strike action and saying 'they have got a good case' and wishing them well. That is tantamount to inciting them," Shamenda said.

He said that UPND must understand that the government had grounds on which nurses were fired, which were clearly backed b the law.

"If anything, once those nurses get a court injunction, chances of even the employer re-employing them may stop. The way the law is at the moment is such that you can't force an employer to reinstate anyone if they dismiss them, each side has got a right to terminate the contract. So they are jeopardising the chances of the nurses," he warned.

"We fired nurses because they did not follow the normal channels because they broke the law. Comparing the KCM or Shoprite case to this particular one is like comparing oranges to sausages. Nurses are essential workers, you can't trivialise these issues. People must understand the gravity of the action which was taken by the nurses."

Shamenda said that by law, it was an offence for anyone classified as an essential worker to go on strike even for a minute.

He said the government had in fact used its discretion to tolerate the strike action for as long as 10 days.

"It's like someone who is driving, and you find there is accident and you refuse to do anything; it is criminal," Shamenda said.

"Last year, the nurses got the highest adjustments of salary increment. It is unprecedented in the history of the country. We never had such an adjustment and we said we would work with unions to ensure the adjustments are implemented."

And Shamenda said he took great exception to remarks by ZCTU Mwaba that the action taken by the government would culminate into a crisis.

"I take serious exception to the statement by ZCTU and the Zambia Medical Association particularly. ZCTU and the Medical Association should have been the first ones to condemn the strike action by nurses," he said.

"I am disappointed with Roy Mwaba, who I am hoping was misquoted, because I think he is politicking. That is a very serious statement. In normal circumstances, he needs to be arrested because what he is saying can lead to the country becoming ungovernable. Where was he when the nurses went on strike in October when politicians were inciting them? 10 days down the line, when the nurses were on strike, ZCTU did not say anything."

"It is a very irresponsible statement by a seasoned trade unionist. He is supposed to condemn the action by nurses instead of insulting government, and no one is going to challenge government. He thinks he can direct government to reinstate nurses at a press conference? That is an insult! Majority of workers in Zambia, if not all, are condemning the strike action by nurses. He should not start daring government."
And Dr Katele Kalumba says the government must delink the health profession from labour unions.

Dr Kalumba says health workers should not use the mechanism that all other category of workers are currently using because of the sensitivity of their work.

"Surely, there must be a different mechanism that can be used in dealing with or having discussions relating to the conditions of service of health workers. I am making a public policy issue here, that can we create a track, away from the public service unionism that is used for negotiating conditions of service for health workers," he said.

"Can we use something similar to what we use when we are dealing with the security and defence force. I hope responsible and rational human beings can see this point and take it up."

Dr Kalumba described the strike action by nurses and the sacking of nurses as sad.

"It's sad news to hear what has happened. It's also outrageously sad that responsible unions can allow a situation to deteriorate to a level where nurses go on a strike and are fired, a situation that is endangering people's lives because they (unions) control health workers. Zambians cannot afford," he said.

"I hope there were no political baggages attached to the failure by the unions to be a lot more socially responsible to the limitation of the government negotiating position on this matter. I hope there is no such thing. If there is, it must be gotten rid of. It's an extraneous matter."

He said the welfare of the patients should come first, stressing that the firing of nurses that had gone on strike, at the expense of the well-being of patients in hospitals, was wrong.

"The primary interest of professionals such as nurses, just as that of government, should be the welfare of their clients," Dr Kalumba said.

"In this case, the patient, that is why there is an oath particularly for this category, doctors or nurses, which they take upon graduating to the professional category. This means against all odds, in the worst of circumstances, they would consider first and foremost, not themselves, not the politician, not the bureaucracy, not even the employer but the interest of the patient that they have sworn to serve," Dr Katele said.

"Now that is nothing to say about various grievances that health workers across the country do face. I live in a rural area; I understand the challenges that they have."

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