Allied health workers’ strike paralyses operations

Allied health professionals, including members of Uganda Association for Orthopedic Technologists and Uganda Medical Laboratory Technology Association, during a press conference in Kampala on April 25. PHOTO / TONNY ABET

What you need to know:

  • They make up about 65 percent of the 57,207 health workers in public service.
  • shs400b cash: The amount of money earmarked for the salary enhancement. 

Heads of hospitals have said the laying down of tools by more than 30,000 allied health professionals has significantly affected service delivery in the facilities.

The essential carders, who started their sit-down strike yesterday, include medical clinical officers, clinical psychiatrists, laboratory scientists, radiologists and dental technicians. 

They make up about 65 percent of the 57,207 health workers in public service. 
Only nurses, midwives and medical officers (doctors) are not part of the allied health professionals association. 

The health workers had given the government 21 days to address their grievances, which among others include low pay, failure to be absorbed in public service and poor working conditions. But they said yesterday that the government turned a deaf ear to their pleas. 

Dr Nathan Onyachi, the Masaka Regional Referral hospital director, told this publication that the strike has greatly affected some units. 

“Dental unit is where we are having a big challenge because most of them are allied health professionals. The few dental doctors cannot manage. So dental, x-ray, and laboratory units are the areas affected,” he said. 

“They [allied health professionals] are, however, providing emergency services. It is the furthest we can go. In other areas, we are trying to redistribute doctors because they are not on strike. Like in the outpatient department, we are trying to get doctors, especially the interns, to handle the out-patients,” he added.

When our reporter visited Mulago National Referral Hospital, the laboratory and radiology units had very few or no patients. This contrasts with observations in the days before the industrial action. At the laboratory unit, the few workers who were serving said they were only providing emergency services. 

No retreat

Mr Patrick Dennis Alibu, the Secretary-General of Uganda Medical Laboratory Technology Association (UMLTA), who is heading the striking allied health professionals, said they don’t want more promises. 

“Enough is enough. We yearn to give the best service to our people, but because of the prevailing situation, we decided to do this [industrial action]. Patients are being sent away from those sections run by allied health members because they are not working,” he said.

“We have got information that at Mulago Hospital theatre, they have sent away some patients because there are no anaesthetists who are part of the allied health professionals. With a lot of initiatives, we have taken to engage the government and nothing happens. Unless it is a meeting with the President [Museveni], we are not going to call off this industrial action,” he added. 

But Mr David Nuwamanya, the Mulago Hospital principal administrator, while admitting that the strike has affected service delivery, said they are still operating people. 

“The strike is on, but you know allied health professionals work with others. So the other members who are not on strike are on ground. The allied health professionals have also left a skeletal staff to handle emergencies. So service delivery is moving on, but in their respective areas [lab, radiology…], services have been affected,” he added. 

Mr Alibu said in the recently announced salary enhancement, “government apportioned a big percentage of money to scales U4, U3, U2, and U1, and giving minimal consideration for U5, U6, U7, and U8 where the majority of the health workforce belong and do the donkey work in Health service delivery”. 

He explained that according to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) of 2017 [with the government], it was agreed that each month, diploma health workers on the U5 scale should take Shs3 million and certificate holders on the U7 scale should bag Shs1.3 million. 

Current pay

The diploma holders are getting Shs1.2m and certificate holders are getting around Shs600,000, according to the professionals. In the enhanced salary, the diploma holders will be getting Shs2m per month while certificate holders are getting Shs1m, which falls short of the CBA, according to the professionals. 

“We are saying this kind of discriminative salary increment is unjust, and it is an attempt to minimise our contribution to health service delivery. We all work like body system that has different organs, all contributing to the wellbeing and functioning of the body. Health system equally as many players each serving and contributing to saving lives of people,” the UMLTA secretary general said.

Prof Pius Okong, the chairperson of the Health Service Commission, said they have already done their part. 
“We recommended salary enhancement for all health workers, not only for doctors. But it is up to the government to determine how it will go about it.” 

Recently, Ms Anifa Kawooya, the State minister for Health in charge of General Duties, and Ms Catherine Bitarakwate, the Public Service ministry Permanent Secretary, speaking to Daily Monitor in separate interviews, asked the professionals to be patient, saying their salary will be enhanced in bits. 

Ms Bitarakwate said the leaked salary structure showing enhanced payment is a “rumour” and that the final structure is yet to be announced.  “Altogether there is Shs400b for the salary enhancement, the information will be out as soon as the Cabinet tells us to release it,” she said. 

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, asked the allied health workers to get back to work.

“We appeal that they should continue working as government handles their grievances. As you are aware, they are planning to improve payment for all scientists. Let them trust the process,” he said.