The opposition Botswana Congress Party has deployed emissaries to plead with the Cuban ambassador not to allow Botswana to recruit Cuban doctors to come and replace their counterparts who are on strike in Botswana.
After firing striking essential services employees from the Public Service on Monday, the government announced that they have recruited 26 doctors from Cuba to come and rescue Botswana’s teetering public health sector. The doctors were expected to have arrived by Friday.
BCP‘s Information and Publicity Secretary, Taolo Lucas, on Friday released a statement calling on the Cuban government to backtrack on the decision as it will undermine civil servants’ demands for a 16 percent salary increase. BCP also delegated its vice president, Lepetu Setshwaelo, and its Deputy Secretary General, Motsei Rapelana, to meet with the Cuban ambassador over the issue.
“Our position is that bringing in Cuban medical doctors will not only undermine the efforts of the striking public servants, but also hurt the friendly reception Batswana have for Cuba as a country,” said Lucas.
He also warned that the Cuban doctors’ safety while in Botswana will not be guaranteed, given the existing volatile situation.
However, Norma Sanchez Aquila, an official at the Cuban embassy, denied that the Cuban doctors are coming to replace striking civil servants, saying they are coming to replace other Cuban doctors who are returning home after serving in Botswana for the last two years.
The public sector strike has severely crippled Botswana’s health services. Major hospitals are operating with less than skeletal staff while a number of clinics have been closed. When the strike started, 50 doctors from Princess Marina Hospital and around 30 from Nyangabwe Hospital in Francistown downed their tools. They were joined by other doctors and nurses from all over the country. By Friday almost all the clinics in Gaborone were closed, while nurses who were not on strike were deployed to work at Princess Marina.
Government’s decision to fire striking essential services employees seems to have backfired, as their counterparts who were not on strike have now joined the strike to show solidarity with their fired counterparts.
The public sector strike is now in its fifth week, and negotiations between trade unions and the employer have repeatedly reached a deadlock.
On Thursday, fresh negotiations between the two once again broke down after trade unions turned down an unconditional 3 percent increase effective September. The unions have climbed down from their initial demand of 16 percent to 13 percent. They are also demanding the unconditional reinstatement of the fired essential services employees, and for government to renege on its no-work-no-pay ultimatum.