Seeking full employment, some 2 035 Concerned Unemployed Nurses and Midwives (Cunm) working in public hospitals in temporary positions are planning to stage a protest on March 27 to force the Ministry of Health to employ them on a permanent basis.
The group has been staging demonstrations at district level from March 11 2019, but they now want all unemployed nurses across the country to down their tools on March 27.
What the proposed action means is that some public hospitals’ operations will be affected as part-time nurses and midwives provide a strong pool of labour to most understaffed health facilities in the country.
Malawi has a nurse/patient ratio of 34:100 000 up from 17:100 000 in 2010 but this ratio is higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended ratio of 500:100 000.
The group wants MoH to employ them, arguing they have been working in public hospitals for the past three years but not on a full salary, only taking home locum and other allowances.
The part-time nurses and midwives are paid K3 000 for working at night and K2 500 per day besides student upkeep allowances of K30 000 for diploma holders and K50 000 for degree holders.
In an interview on Thursday, the group’s chairperson Donald Zgambo demanded that they be freed from what he called “exploitative forms of locum, internship and upkeep allowances” and get fully employed as they are fully qualified and licensed to work as nurse/midwives.
“This is why our expression of concerns demands massive recruitment of nurse/midwives with the urgency and emergency measure it deserves. We are fully aware that locum and upkeep allowances are nothing but abusive forms of exploitation to our excellent skills,” said Zgambo.
He said the group has been consulting bodies governing nursing and midwifery in Malawi, including the Nurses and Midwives Council and the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives (Nonm), Health Service Commission as well as the Directorate of Nursing and Midwifery Services.
Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) deputy director Jessie Ching’oma criticised government for not responding in time to grievances raised by the part-time nurses, adding that the laissez-faire approach to matters of health puts lives of patients at risk.
According to section 26 (1) of the Employment Act (2000), in a contract of employment in respect of a skilled worker, the parties may agree on the duration of the probationary period provided that the period shall not, in any event, exceed 12 months.
Chingoma said the union is engaging Cunm through Nonm on how they can assist the aggrieved nurses.
According to Zgambo, the withdrawal of labour by the temporarily employed nurses has affected more than 19 districts in Malawi.
Since 2013, when government stopped direct recruitment of nurses and midwives, public hospitals have been using locum and student upkeep allowances to cover up the vacancy rates.
The Annual Economic Report for 2016, says there are just below 4 000 filled posts in the nursing cadre against 13 600 established posts.