Govt urges medical interns to tough it out

Working 12- to 24-hour shifts with no overtime payments and without medical aid benefits, the health ministry’s medical interns have turned to the Office of the Labour Commissioner for help.

17 December 2021 | Health

TUYEIMO HAIDULA







OSHAKATI

Health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe said government is aware of medical interns’ long working hours, but added that the nation’s health is at stake, and that they should put in the work.

Nangombe was responding to a Namibian Sun enquiry on complaints by medical interns that they are victims to unfair labour practices at the hands of the health ministry.

The 75 interns employed by the ministry countrywide in July expressed their dismay about their lack of overtime payments and medical aid benefits, arguing that they work in harsh conditions and cannot afford to be without health insurance.

Addressed their grievances to Nangombe, the interns later engaged Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila on the issue, but to no avail.

Both offices acknowledged receiving the interns’ letters, and said feedback would be given once a decision has been made.

To speed up the process, the interns this week lodged a complaint with the Office of the Labour Commissioner over what they termed unfair labour practices, and authorised Sikunawa Ndoroma to lodge the dispute on their behalf. They have also asked lawyer Henry Shimutwikeni to make demands on their behalf.

Overworked, underpaid

The interns complained that they are paid a fixed salary but their hours are often more than those prescribed by the law.

In their letter, they said they are sometimes required to work 12 to 24-hour shifts without overtime.

“The applicants work about over 60 hours per week and above their ordinary hours with no overtime benefits for the excessive and demanding hours they are subjected to. The applicants perform tasks that medical officers perform, however, this is done “under supervision”, [which] includes but [is] not limited to examining patients, diagnosing and treat[ing] health conditions and diseases,” the letter read in part.

The interns said while they accept that by choosing to become health professionals they are inherently at risk of disease and illness, they should be treated as fairly as other state employees - who get paid overtime and have access to the Public Service Medical Aid Scheme (Psemas).

They addressed their concerns to Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, health minister Kalumbi Shangula, Nangombe and Ombudsman Basilius Dyakugha.

‘Be realistic’

In response, Nangombe said he is aware of the demands being made, but asked the interns to be realistic and meet government halfway.

He said the conditions of service or any benefits that may be attached to a position is not determined by the health ministry, but by the public service management department through the Public Service Commission.

Nangombe added that the interns should also note that government has taken a productive step to put in place a policy relating to the management of government internships.

They need to put in the hours so that they can be skilled doctors and offer the best healthcare possible, he said.

“They should be learning to meet government halfway. It’s challenging long hours. We take cognisance of that, but while we are meeting them halfway, our efforts must be reciprocated,” he stressed.

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