Ugandan gov’t orders striking doctors to resume work immediately

Ugandan gov't orders striking doctors to resume work immediately
Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng. Courtesy Photo.

Government has ordered all striking medical workers to resume work immediately or get sacked.

The minister of health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng says the current industrial action by the health workers is illegal since it has been organised by an association that is illegal.

The health workers under their umbrella Uganda Medical Workers Association (UMA) on Monday declared a nationwide industrial action following government’s failure to honour their welfare and improve working conditions. They laid down their tools, only attending to patients with emergency cases and pregnant women.

Dr Aceng, while addressing reporters on Thursday night at the ministry of Health headquarters in Kampala, declared that UMA is not legally mandated to negotiate for welfare of medical workers. She ordered all medical workers to resume work with immediate effect.

According to Aceng, President Yoweri Museveni had ordered that the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to immediately start supervising health centres and hospitals and take note of absentee health workers.

She noted that the action by medical workers to lay down their tools has paralysed health services in most government hospitals.

“All the health workers in Uganda and the general public are hereby directed that the strike by Uganda Medical Association is illegal. All medical workers who were misled to join the strike must resume their duty with immediate effect,” she said.

“All medical workers who adhere will not be subject to any disciplinary action. All health workers who resume duty shall be provided adequate protection by the government. All the ringleaders must desist from interfering with the smooth provision of medical services in the country. I already have a circular from the Office of the President directing all the RDCs to monitor the health workers who have reported on duty,” she added.

Aceng said while the health workers’ demands are genuine, they must exercise their rights with restraint and patience in order to allow government handle their issues in a phased manner.

“The order to go back to work stems from the fact that their industrial work is illegal and they should go back to work. That should be very clear. As to the issues of their motivation, we have clearly stated that government is addressing. We’ve not said, we’re not addressing the issue, we have said their request is genuine. Nobody has said it is not genuine, it is genuine but we have to exercise restraint and be patient as government is addressing all these demands,” said Aceng.

Government has also ordered medical interns who, according to Dr Aceng, were misled to join what she called an illegal strike to resume duty immediately, failure of which defiant interns are to forfeit their internship and be subjected to re-application.

“All the interns who were misled to join the illegal strike must resume duty immediately. All the interns who will not adhere to this directive shall forfeit their internship and shall be required to reapply for consideration. They are in training and their training is not negotiable.

Every day of training that they miss, they will redo it. For those that are willing to go and complete their training they are free to go, for those that are not willing to go, they will forfeit their training and they will have to reapply again,” warned the minister.

Dr Aceng says that there is already a court order of March 1, 2017 that restrains UMA officials including Charles Yiga, Dr Ekwaro Obuku and Eva Nangalo from interfering with any matter with the Uganda Medical Workers’ Union, pending a court ruling.

She argues that the current strike led by Dr Ekwaro is in contempt of court.

“Dr Ekwaro Obuku mobilising the doctors to lay down their tools when they are under Medical Workers’ Union tantamount to contempt of the court order.”

Dr Aceng also states that UMA is not a registered trade union to enjoy the rights and privileges provided under the Labour Union Act.

She says UMA is a registered company whose mandate is not to interfere in the provision of services by the doctors at their work places as a trade union would, but to promote and maintain a high standard of professional ethics among members of the medical profession.

“Therefore, the involvement of UMA in influencing the public service activities by calling on doctors to strike is illegal and should cease henceforth and the perpetrators should be treated as trespassers,” Aceng stated.

Government faults UMA for usurping the powers of the labour unions to initiate an ‘illegal’ strike without following laws that govern industrial action among civil servants in the public service. These are provided for in the Negotiating, Consultative and Disputes Settlement Machinery Act of 2008.

Usher Wilson Owere, the chairman general of the National Organization of Trade Union (NOTU), said that medical workers have been ‘brainwashed’ by Dr Obuku and Workers MP Dr Sam Lyomoki to believe their political stunts of promising them enhanced salaries.

Owere says the health workers are just excited about what they are being told and that the two people are positioning themselves politically to manipulate the already unsuspecting health workers. He says NOTU will not allow the two individuals to create tension in the country.

“The medical workers will get what is due to them and we’re going to do it in a very orderly way. As long as am still a leader of workers, I will not allow politics to mar the issue of workers. Politics must get out of the workers negotiations so that we be more focused so that doctors and nurses get what they want.

What I want to see now is government bridging the gap which is there. Those who are getting too much money because the lowest person is getting around Shs 170,000. Now what I want to see is government bridging that gap,” Owere said.

Christopher Peter Werikhe, the NOTU general secretary when asked why the health workers had refused to heed to their calls not to participate in the strike, said the NOTU has been hijacked by Dr Lyomoki who has been pushing his selfish interests.

Werikhe argues that even the proposals made by UMA were stolen from NOTU’s negotiations with government and blamed them for rushing to the media to publish them ahead of NOTU.