- Injury to one is an Injury to all say striking doctors
- Solidarity campaign to close hospitals
In a defiant show of solidarity with fired colleagues, doctors and nurses who had yet to join the on-going public service strike have supported a campaign to shut down hospitals across the country.
At least 300 hospital staff downed tools at Marina Hospital in Gaborone on Wednesday amid emotional cries of “an injury to one is an injury to all’ by picketing doctors and nurses currently awaiting dismissal letters. The solidarity strategy meant to bring a stubborn employer to heel by crippling as many government institutions as possible follows an announcement that over 40 doctors and nurses who defied a court order to go back to work last week have been fired.
By late afternoon on Wednesday, reports were pouring in that the Mahalapye General Hospital was almost non-functional as almost all the doctors and nurses had downed tools to protest the sacking of three nurses at the hospital, the only ones at the time of going to press said to have received dismissal letters for taking part in the strike.
“All the doctors and nurses at Mahalapye downed tools at 10am and joined the strike to show solidarity, while 90% of our colleagues at Nyangabgwe hospital have done the same. By Friday we expect all the major hospitals across the country to be shut down as there will be no doctors and nurses to provide a service. We will leave them with no choice but to shut down same way the teachers gave them no choice but to close schools indefinitely,” said a defiant picketing doctor, Odirile Bakae, 34, from Princess Marina.
Making a passionate case for joining the strike, Doctor Bakae told his colleagues that they had waged a war they could not afford to lose, and in any war there were bound to be casualties. “This is a war we are determined to win. It is a war we won’t lose. The government wants to oppress us and if we don’t rise above that oppression today, we will never be able to do so in the future,” he said.
Bakae went on to urge those who were not initially part of the strike to show bravery and solidarity by supporting those who had put their necks on the block for a 16% salary hike and better working conditions, which government workers across the country have been demanding.
Bakae added: “We sacrificed our jobs and our salaries for all and we have now come too far to let government divide and conquer us . We can’t go back now. We are in too deep. It won’t make sense for us to spend so many days on strike and then walk away empty handed at the end of it all. We will win!” He said in a rousing speech that ended with a tumultuous applause from his audience.
Asked if they were not going against the agreed upon strike rules by picketing, Bakae said the agreement not to picket ended after the agreed upon 14 days.” Besides, Government was the first to break the rules by employing temporary staff within 14 days, although it was agreed that wouldn’t happen”, the aggrieved doctor argued.
Among the burning issues that doctors are not happy with are salaries, which they say at P9 400 for an entry level is too small given the amount of time they spend on training and on the job, especially if they compare themselves to their South African counterparts whom they said were paid at least R 28 000 at the same level. “We work ridiculous shifts of up to 36 hours per shift with no overtime pay. And these are issues we have raised several times before with no avail. This time around we are not backing down,” Bakae argued.
Meanwhile the Union and Government failed to agree on the increment on Wednesday as the Union declined to accept the 3% offered in fresh negotiations. The Government has maintained that the economy was still recovering and therefore they could not afford the 16% demand, while the union (BOFEPUSU) on the other hand gave Government until the end of yesterday (Thursday) to readjust the offer or face a call for President Khama to step down.
Speaking on Wednesday BOFEPUSU Publicity Secretary, Goretetse Kekgonegile said: “If Government continues to be stubborn we will be left with no choice but to demand for Khama to step down. This has now become a political problem and therefore calls for a political solution.”