Maputo, 23 Aug (AIM) – The Mozambican government has appointed Prime Minister Adriano Maleiane to head a working group that will continue “dialogue” with doctors of the Mozambican Medical Association (AMM) who are currently on strike.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, after the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), the government spokesperson, Deputy Minister of State Administration Inocencio Impissa, said the new group “will continue to deepen the questions pending” in the dialogue with the striking doctors, and try to understand the bottlenecks that have arisen.
Impissa stressed that the government had never cut off any channels of dialogue with the AMM, and continues to believe that dialogue is the best way to solve any dispute.
The last two meetings between the government and the AMM took place on Friday and over the weekend. Impissa said the government “is now trying to raise the level to try to understand a little more what is not being achieved”.
The government, he added, believed that significant progress had been made in the dialogue – but clearly the AMM disagrees.
The AMM leadership has not made its demands clear. But, according to the Ministry of Health, there are two sticking points. One is seniority pay – the government wants this paid twice during a doctor’s career, while the AMM is insisting on four payments.
The second issue is overtime pay. The government says the AMM wants overtime paid to doctors at four times the rate paid to other workers in the public administration.
So there is no demand for a general increase in the basic wage paid to doctors – although the AMM does complain about the way doctors have been categorized in the new Single Wage Table (TSU) for the public sector.
Impissa denied that the government is “intimidating” the striking doctors, much less threatening to assassinate the AMM leaders.
Last Sunday, the AMM chairperson, Milton Tatia, claimed that he, Deputy Chairperson Paulo Samo Gudo, and General Secretary Napoleao Viola, have all received anonymous death threats.
He warned that, if any of the AMM leaders were to be assassinated, then the entire health service, including private clinics, would be paralysed.
“If one falls, we all fall”, declared Tatia. He did not suggest who had made the death threats.
Impissa found it strange that the AMM had taken this claim to the press instead of first demanding action on the alleged death threats from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Such threats constitute serious crimes, and should be investigated as such.
A second strike has been under way in the health service since Sunday, called by the United Association of Health Professionals (APSUSM), which claims to represent all workers in the health units except the doctors.
Like the AMM, APSUSM is not demanding a wage rise, but has instead concentrated on shortages of medicines, equipment and even beds in the public hospitals (although the Health Ministry has insisted there is no general lack of medicines).
The two strikes have clearly damaged the capacity of the health service to care for the public. Although health directors in the provinces claim that all health units are still operating, visits by journalists from the independent television station, STV, found cases in which patients had been abandoned by medical staff, and were obliged to go home without seeing a doctor.
In one Maputo health centre, STV found that staff removed their white hospital uniforms, locked their office doors and went home.
Both the AMM and APSUSM have promised that a basic minimum of services will be provided to the public, despite the strikes – but this is simply not happening.
Where services are available, they are often provided by foreign doctors or by trainees.