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Malawi medical workers stage strike over allowances

Blantyre — Medical workers in Malawi’s public health facilities started a nationwide sit-in strike Monday to push the government to meet their longtime grievances, which include special allowances and improved conditions of service. The strike forced patients in many hospitals to return home without receiving medical care. Strike organizers said some medical workers could treat patients with critical conditions.

In some public health facilities medical workers were seen singing and dancing outside the hospitals.

While some patients like Nelia Banda of the M’bwatalika area returned home without receiving attention.

She said “Medical workers told me that they will not attend to me because they are not working today. They said I should come again on Monday next week. I am pregnant and yesterday I fell because of high blood pressure but I haven’t been assisted here.”

The strike is a result of the failure of negotiations between the medical workers and government authorities on worker demands dating back to February of this year.

The government had told the medical workers that it would increase their allowances and improve their working conditions instead of meeting the 15% salary increase that medical workers were demanding.    

The increase was meant for risk allowance, top-up allowance and professional allowance. Put simply, this is income that medical workers receive for working overtime or for performing duties outside their normal schedule.

Daniel Nasimba is the general secretary for the Physician Assistants Union of Malawi (PAUM), one of the organizers of the strike.

He said some staff members at the hospital were allowed to attend to patients with emergencies.

He said, “At least we have people. Every department has someone who can attend to any emergency that can come in. What is happening now is called a sit-in. It’s not a complete shutdown of the health service. We are all at work, nobody is at home.”

Nasimba said the workers will not return to duty fully — until the government honors its promise.

However, the Malawi government has obtained an injunction stopping the strike.

Organizers of the strike, the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives and the Physician Assistants Union of Malawi, said in a statement released Monday evening that they were consulting their legal team about the matter.