By Our Reporter
At least more than 1,850 health workers employed in various public health facilities have announced a sit down strike starting tonight decrying government’s failure to increase their salaries and improve their welfare. These include doctors, nurses, midwives, consultants, medical interns and pharmacists.
According to the President of Uganda Medical Association -UMA, Dr. Samuel Odongo Oledo, the health workers have over the past four years engaged relevant government ministries, departments and agencies to discuss matters affecting them. But the government has been making promises which have not been fulfilled.
Dr. Odongo says the matters affecting them relate to human capital development, delayed salary enhancement, poor working conditions characterized by chronic shortage of medical supplies and technologies such as Personal Protection Equipment, gloves among others.
According to Dr. Odongo, Uganda produces more than 500 medical doctors annually and other 150 medical specialists in the various Medical Schools. However, he notes that despite these numbers, approximately 60 percent of the approved posts for doctors in public service are currently vacant including 75 percent for Senior Cadres of Consultants and Senior Consultants.
As such, Dr. Odongo who was addressing Journalists at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala on Sunday indicated that recently UMA did a survey, where they found out that more than 1,100 doctors were found unemployed yet funds meant to pay for salaries are returned to the Treasury due to the posts being vacant yet the specialists to fill those posts are there.
He adds that many hospital specialists are working as Medical Officers and earning less pay since they are not appointed which is also one of the key grievances they have.
On September, 30th 2019, the President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed the Public Service Ministry to increase allowances and salaries of scientists, University lecturers and health workers.
According to the directive which was also accompanied by a parliamentary resolution made some time back, the allowances of health workers were supposed to be increased from 12 billion shillings to 35 billion shillings per financial year and this was meant to address all their grievances related to improving on their welfare and salaries.
Following the directive, Dr. Odongo notes that the Intern Doctors who are currently earning a gross monthly pay of 960,000 shillings, their salary was to be increased to 3 million shillings, an entry level Medical Officer to be paid a monthly salary of five million shillings, Senior Consultant 17 million shillings monthly and the rest of the cadres also their emoluments were supposed to be increased accordingly.
However, the doctors further say that although Museveni’s directive was implemented in universities and in some parastatal organizations, the health workers have been neglected to date.
On his part, the UMA Secretary General, Herbert Luswata has given an example of some judicial officers who have cars with sirens and at times when they are driving in the city to work are given way to rush to courts and attend to accused persons including criminals; but a doctor going to save a life at times is reportedly forced to use motorcycles even at night which he says puts their lives in danger.
The strike by UMA comes at the time when the Federation of Uganda Medical Interns -FUMI has also been on strike since May 17th 2021.
But FUMI Secretary General Faith Nabushawo who also attended the Press conference says that they met President Museveni on June 1st 2021 and it was resolved that the government employs all unemployed doctors, expands posts for doctors down to health center III and that revised salaries be paid effective July 2021.
To her surprise, Nabushawo who has supported the looming strike further says that even when the President directed the Prime Minister and the Health Minister after the 2021/2022 budget reading on June 10th 2021 over Scientist’s salary increments, nothing has since been done.
Unless government heeds to their five demands including passing a supplementary budget for salary enhancement, boost medical supplies and other technologies, employing all doctors, compensating families of all health workers who have succumbed to Covid-19 in line of duty and prioritizing their welfare outside salary, the health workers have resolved to lay down their tools effective this midnight.
The Public Service Ministry has in the recent past been saying that increasing salaries for all public servants including scientists will be done in a phased manner.