There are a number of strikes in various district hospitals including Zomba, Thyolo, Neno and Balaka where staff are mostly asking for change of management. The strikes have been described as illegal by the ministry and some quarters say those involved be fired. Mwereti Kanjo caught up with Ministry of Health principal secretary Willie Samute to see what government is doing about the situation.
Q: The country has been rocked by strikes in hospitals asking for management change, what is government doing on this?
A: We treat each issue as it emerges from every institution and we have our own approaches to respond to such issues. We have a team in the Ministry of Health that has been going to these facilities for discussions and they engage those that are complaining. Our intention is to prevent any sit-ins in the hospitals and if it happens, we need to prevent any serious repercussions that may arise from such action.
Q: The strikes have been described by your ministry as illegal; do you not think this will fuel the strikers to go on?
A: I do not think so. As a ministry, we need to provide the guidance to whoever wants to demonstrate against anything in the hospitals. We have always advised any worker to follow proper procedures of complaining and until all avenues been exhausted, and then a strike is necessary as the only last resort.
We, therefore, have seen that all the sit-ins in the hospitals of Thyolo, Balaka, Neno and Zomba Central did not exhaust all these procedures. Therefore, we described them as illegal. This is one way of enlightening all workers to know the well-laid procedures of addressing problems that exist in their facilities.
Q: Why do you think the strikes are happening around the same time?
A: We donâ€™t know and we are also surprised, but one thing is common that all the workers are complaining about their management teamsâ€™ way of handling issues including finances, apart from those in Neno.
Q: A few years ago, Nsanje District Hospital had a similar issue which resulted in a strike that took long to resolve. Given this background, is it not a sign that there are some underlying causes that government needs to address?
A: No. Time and again when such things happen, they do have different reasons apart from the recent ones. While some of their concerns are common across many health facilities, the action undertaken by health workers is what is very important. So, we do treat each case as it comes until all things are normalised, but at all cost, our intention is to prevent any occurrence of such actions.
Q: There have been calls that government should fire all people involved because the strikes are illegal. Can this be a solution looking at the fact that the ministry is already understaffed?
A: While firing may be an appropriate action for any worker who has contravened work regulations as it was in these health facilities, we have an obligation to show them the right way of complaining when things are not perfect.
You may also wish to know that before any person is fired, we will warn them of the forthcoming consequence and eventually, if necessary, they can be fired; but since all of them have gone back to work now, we may not consider that though some disciplinary action will be undertaken to those who broke the regulations.
Q: Any last comments?
A: No. I can only thank you for your interest in this issue.