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By Metahera Lahari

LAE, Papua New Guinea (January 19, 2000 – The National)---The Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae is preparing a contingency plan to keep the hospital operational when its nurses, who are members of the PNG Nurses Association, carry out their threat to go on strike.

The association has demanded the government pay its members outstanding duty allowances and entitlements totaling over K 40 million (US$ 14.43 million) and dating back to 1993.

It also wants improved terms and conditions for its members.

Elia Mcnell, president of the association’s Lae branch, said a secret ballot to be conducted at the end of the month would determine what industrial action to take.

Mcnell said members of the association in Lae held a meeting last Friday at Angau Memorial Hospital and were briefed on the secret ballot and other courses of action.

But, he said, a strike seems inevitable, a move that would cripple health services in the country.

This has prompted administrators of Angau to devise a contingency plan.

The hospital's board and management plans to employ unemployed registered nursing officers and community health workers (CHWs) to continue normal operations.

Most nursing officers employed at the Angau Memorial Hospital and surrounding urban health centers will join the indefinite industrial strike.

Angau Chief Executive Officer Margaret Samei has taken out advertisements in the newspapers seeking the services of unemployed registered nursing officers and CHWs residing in Lae during the period of strike.

She said these temporary staff positions would keep major services at the hospital functioning if the nurses go on strike.

"Our plan is to try and keep as many nurses on in the wards and to keep the services flowing," she said.

She said the much needed and vital sections of the hospital would be operating with skeletal staff and will cater to emergency cases only. She added that sections to be operational during the period would be the accidents and emergencies ward, labor ward, the operating theatre, and the intensive care unit (ICU).

The hospital will need 30 nurses to cover these areas. Currently there are 17 nurses.

"The hospital is currently very short on nursing staff and the strike will definitely put strain on hospital, but they will do everything to counter the problem," she said.

Mcnell called on the Community Health Workers Association and the church health services to support the issue or make their stand clear.

He said if their industrial action is successful, the package would also benefit CHWs and the church health workers.

"They should stand with us to fight this cause once and for all because it has taken over six years for the government to pay us our dues," he said.

He also cautioned the hospital's board and management on their contingency plan to employ unemployed general nurses and CHWs during the event of a strike.

He said there would be some consequences arising from this plan in terms of professional misconduct and patients' safety and welfare.

He said his association would not be responsible, as it is the arrangement of the hospital management.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).



PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 19, 2000 – Radio Australia)---Nurses in Papua New Guinea will vote on a nationwide strike this week over pay and working conditions.

The Nurses Association submitted a log of claims to the government in 1998, but so far the claim has not been acknowledged.

Association President Susan Airo said nurses in PNG receive poor wages and conditions compared to nurses in other countries.

She said nurses have no option but to strike.

"The government should be responsible for their employees," she said. "The cost of living is very high. The buying power is very low. So our members cannot, at this stage, tolerate the government's behavior."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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