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By Frederica Delailomaloma

SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 6, 2000 – Fiji Times)---Nurses will walk off their jobs at midnight, January 13.

That's the official word from the Fiji Nursing Association.

The nurses said this is what happens when "push comes to shove."

The association said the overtime ban did not receive the expected response from the authorities, and nurses feared they were deceived over their plea for a pay review and better working conditions.

Illegal or not, the nurses will walk out after years of lobbying for an improved salary scale and better working conditions, said the association.

Graduates start on F$8,500 (US$ 4,397) and retire after 25 years with F$11,500 (US$ 5,949), assuming they are promoted during their careers.

"The nurses are really trying hard during this goodwill withdrawal. They want to give their patients the best, but it is difficult. The Ministry of Health should be working with us and more so, for us. We have heard from the Public Service Commission and government, but it's been quiet from our ministry,'' association officials said yesterday.

The ministry was working on solving staff shortages at hospitals around Fiji, the association said, but not on nurses' demands.

"Our problem will not go away if they don't address it now,'' the association said.

The ministry said management was to meet during the week to discuss a plan to address the shortage problem.

"The initial plan to re-deploy public health nurses did not work because they were FNA members and the ministry is looking at other means to rectify the shortage problem. We are only human too,'' said Dr. Serupepeli Goneyali, the ministry's acting permanent secretary.

Yesterday nurses read a two-month-old letter that asked them to lodge their grievances with a taskforce committee the ministry formed last year.

The letter from the Ministry of Health, dated October 15, said the taskforce's priority was to push for nurses' salary increases.

"It was agreed during your meeting with the Minister for Health on (October 14, 1999) that you submit your proposal for a salary review of all nursing staff to the ministry's taskforce.

"The taskforce in turn is to prepare a Cabinet submission based on your proposals,'' it said.

A time frame of two weeks was given to the association to submit a Cabinet paper from the date of the receipt of its proposal, the letter said.

"We are looking forward towards working with you in improving the salary and working condition of our nurses in the Government services,'' the letter said.

The association said the proposal they put before the taskforce should not have been tabled before the Public Service Commission but taken to Cabinet.

Cabinet is expected to meet later this month to discuss the issue.

Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry had earlier warned the association to lift the ban to enable their grievance to be brought before Cabinet.

The Prime Minister's Office could not confirm if it had received a hand-delivered letter on December 24, citing the nurses' plight

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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