Monday, April 19, 2021

Civil service strike in life and death twist

At least two babies died during labour at Princess Marina Hospital because there were no midwives to deliver them.

Patients needing immediate attention found themselves stranded outside closed government clinics, businesses cannot renew trading licences because health inspectors have downed tools, Government suppliers stuck with unpaid invoices because paymasters are on strike, government cost recovery plans at health centres collapse because revenue officers have abandoned posts – And the situation is expected to get worse before it gets better as the civil service strike action enters its second week.

Sunday Standard independent investigations have confirmed reports by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), Publicity Secretary Goretetse Kekgonegile that about 65 government health facilities have had to close down because doctors and nurses have traded their stethoscopes for placards.

In one tragic incident, two families walked away from Princess Marina Hospital after giving birth to babies who died during birth. One of the mothers told Sunday Standard how she lost her baby while in the queue waiting to be helped into the delivery room. Sunday Standard was able to establish that at some stage, Wednesday last week about 10 women who were due to go into labour were stranded outside the delivery room with no midwife to help them.

Outpatients attending government health facilities got away without paying the cost recovery fee because there were no revenue officers to collect the money.

Kekgonegile claims that Health Minister, Dr John Seakgosing, is so overwhelmed by the crisis in his ministry that he had to be admitted at a Selibe Phikwe health facility where he was put under observation for five hours.

The public education system is also reported to be buckling under the pressure of the ongoing 10 day civil service strike.

“As we speak Moeng College, Shoshong Junior School, Macha, Sehutshelo Primary School and Kang were closed yesterday (Thursday) due to uncontrollable situations that come up in the absence of teachers in class,” said Kekgonegile.

He claims that 75 percent of teachers are on strike.

There are fears that the situation may get worse this week as veterinary officers join in on the strike and striking workers who are expected to picket clash with Botswana Defence Force members who have been deployed as replacement workers at border posts.

Despite the five unions’ threat to paralyze border posts, it has been business as usual at Ramokgwebana border post throughout this week. Members of the Botswana Defence Force were deployed there to render service that is usually offered by immigration officers. The soldiers were apparently inducted last Sunday to man the border for the duration of the strike. They manned the offices in full military uniforms, allowing travelers in and out of the country.

This action, seen as disregard of strike rules agreed upon by the Directorate of Public Service Management, has incensed the unions.

“This is a clear contravention of strike rules, especially Section 37 of the Trade Dispute Act, which says an employer cannot replace (people) on strike before 14 days elapse. The government does not respect the rule of law,” charged Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, Secretary General of the Botswana Land Boards Local Authorities and Health Workers Union, who was making the rounds to assess the situation in the northeast.

Incensed by the government’s move, Johnson Motswaragole, Secretary-General of the Botswana Manual Workers’ Union, an affiliate of BOFEPUSU, last week warned that the 10-day strike over pay may become violent if the government continues to use replacement workers.

BOFEPUSU this week handed a petition to Mokgweetsi Masisi, the minister of presidential affairs threatening action against the use of replacement workers.

“Do not push us to the extremes, we can be violent,” Motshwarakgole allegedly said as he handed over the petition.

The unions have allegedly resolved to resort to picketing and to launch a court action against the deployment of replacement workers.

Kekgonegile said with effect from Easter Friday, Veterinary workers would be joining the strike therefore all workers mending foot and mouth gates, parks and other workers under veterinary department would engage in the strike and this is likely to extend the EU ban on Botswana beef.
He indicated that they are waiting for judgment from Industrial court for the release of school heads and stationed heads to be allowed on strike too. At court, Kekgonegile said they took DPSM to court because the mediator has come up with his amendment to the act by including veterinary services within essential services list.

“Industrial court yesterday ruled against that,” he said.

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