Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Nurses sue gov’t over exposure to COVID-19 exposure risks

Nurses have notified Botswana Government of their intention to sue over poor conditions of service which expose them to risks of being infected by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a letter notifying the government of their intention to sue which was addressed to the Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) the union representing nurses across the country, the Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) demands that the government addresses a number of issues relating to safe working conditions against the virus.

The Director of DPSM, the Permanent Secretary of Minister of Health, the Director of Public Health and the Attorney General are cited as First Respondent, Second Respondent, Third Respondent and Fourth Respondent respectively.

BONU states, through their lawyers, Collins Chilisa Consultants that they intend to institute proceedings against DPSM, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health, the Director of Public Health and the Attorney General as it is concerned with the health and nursing profession.

According to BONU, it is representing a significant portion of the nurses and midwives employed in the public service.

“As employer, one of the obligations that the Government has towards the members of the Claimant (BONU) is to provide safe working conditions. This in terms of Section 11 (2) (a) (i) of the Public Service Act and the common law,” the union says.  

 BONU argues that it is alarmed at the indifference that the DPSM and the Permanent Secretary have displayed towards the safety of its members in the work place, particularly in light of the outbreak of Covid-19.

“The members have been at the forefront of screening persons entering the country, through the borders, for coronavirus and assisting in the administration of tests of persons suspected to be carriers of the coronavirus,” the union argues through its lawyers.

 The unions says Government exposed nurses to the risk of infection by not providing elementary personal protective equipment like disposable gowns and protective eyewear, all of which are recognized by the World Health Organisation as indispensable tools for workers at the forefront of screening persons for covid-19.

 “Government has also endangered the health and safety of the Union members’ families by not putting measures in place to ensure that when they have worked for the day, they do not go back to their families and the rest of the community, and risk spreading any infection that they may have picked up in the process of screening persons,” the union says.

It is the union’s position that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that those attending to the screening and testing of persons should be accommodated separately and should thereafter quarantine after 14 days at least after their final shift.

‘As a result of the failure to provide accommodation facilities for health workers at the forefront of dealing with the covid-19 crisis, public health is endangered every time those who are affected return home and mingle with the rest of the community,” the union says.

There is also currently no psychological support and counseling being provided to those at the forefront, BONU argues.

“Psychological support and counseling, during the period of deployment, is critical in managing stress that comes with the assignment and that which follows the assignment,” says the union.

Having regard to the urgency of the situation and the peril that the union’s members are confronted with, BONU seeks an undertaking that:  the Government will take all measures that are reasonably necessary, and in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, to ensure the health and safety of members in the workplace.

 The union also wants the government to provide its members involved in screening for corona with all the reasonably necessary protective gear, including disposable gowns and protective eyewear and to provide the Claimant’s members involved in the screening of corona with food in the workplace.  

 “In the event that such undertaking is not delivered before close of business on 30 March 2020, we hold firm instructions to institute urgent proceedings to protect the Union member’s rights to a safe working environment,” the union says.  

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