SAMOA DOCTORS PROTEST WAGES, CONDITIONS

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By Malia Sio and Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, April 19) - Doctors working in government hospitals and medical centers in Samoa yesterday voted to limit their working hours as a protest over salaries and working conditions.

This week they will work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. only and only respond to emergency calls outside those hours, they decided in a meeting.

They said they will go on strike next week if there is still no response from the government and Public Service Commission (PSC), they said.

Samoa Medical Association President Lauano Dr. Herbert Peters said: "We have been left with no other options."

He spoke after 31 association members held a vote during a special meeting at the national Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital, Moto'otua.

Lauano said that the association earlier gave the PSC a two-week deadline.

This was to answer the doctors' pleas for a salary review and respond to their other concerns over working conditions.

"After all this time they called us on Thursday morning and asked our executives to meet with the Commission at 12 noon," Lauano said.

He said this was impossible at such short notice as most of their executives were conducting clinics and other work in Upolu and Savaii.

"We are busy, this time was not feasible for us. So we declined this and asked them to come and meet with us here," he said.

He said PSC chief executive Fa'amausili Dr. Matagialofi Luaiufi then wrote voicing the commission's disappointment with the executives' unwillingness to attend the meeting.

But Lauano said this meeting called by the PSC was at short notice and two weeks after the doctors gave their deadline.

The association has also again expressed concern at the way local doctors are being treated in comparison with expatriate doctors.

He said PSC in a letter stated that Cabinet has already approved expatriate doctors' salaries and benefits, and they are not entitled to overtime pay.

Lauano said that this was not what was happening. On top of the expatriates' higher salaries, and other benefits such as accommodation, they were indeed claiming over time pay, he said.

He said the PSC also said local doctors were getting too much overtime.

But Lauano said that this does not take into consideration that the national hospital is short of doctors.

"The local doctors have to take on these after-hour shifts, and they deserve to be compensated for their work," Lauano said.

He said doctors are human and want to spend time with their families, not 24 hours at the hospital. But they were sometimes required to work these hours.

The association is also dissatisfied with the PSC response to why doctors who have taken on added seniority and responsibility have not got salary increases.

He said Fa'amausili in her letter said they had not received operational forms to justify these salary changes.

But Lauano said: "We know they have been sent by our Assistant Chief Executives but Cabinet have freezed these."

He said even a pay rise approved in 2001 has not been implemented yet.

Lauano said many local doctors have been working at a salary scale which is below what they have should be getting, especially senior doctors.

Doctors who had been serving at the national hospital for more than 11 years are still working at low salaries, he said.

"No locals doctors' salary is higher then $40,000," he said.

He said consultant-specialists are not being recognized for their experience and expertise even though have post graduate qualifications.

When they return, however, Lauano said the PSC only allows for them a 300 tala (US$113) bonus, and no increase in the salary.

He said: "We are losing local doctors because of this, yet Government continues to bring in more expatriate doctors for more attractive salaries and benefits."

He said that a classic example was when the PSC continued to decline a pay rise for Dr. Semisi Aiono. He said Dr. Aiono held more qualifications from recognized overseas institutions then any of the expatriate doctors.

But he said: "Semisi left, we lost him to overseas because of this. When he left he was only on $37,000 with no benefits."

Lauano stressed that there is no disharmony between local doctors and expatriate doctors.

All the local doctors are fighting for is for their salary structures to be increased, which has been on the agenda for many years.

'"The Government, PSC and the administration are ignoring our pleas," he said. "Where is the fairness in this?

"We feel insulted. Government has not taken us seriously yet we are a professional association," he said.

He said that after their one week of work-to-rule, they would walk out if the Government has not responded.

"It will be up to our doctor members in the administration if they want to join us," he said.

Lauano said that PSC and Government must realize the nature of their work, and what the doctors have to deal with.

"We have been patient long enough," he said.

Lauano said that their sympathies are with the public, who will no doubt be affected by these changes.

But he said these issues are serious and must be addressed by the Government and the Public Service Commission.

Samoa General Medical Practitioners Association president Lealiifano Dr. Iopu Tanielu said that this is a problem that must be solved between the Government and hospital doctors.

He said two things that will come as a result of any strikes or walkouts would be an overload on private practitioners and also an affect on emergency cases.

"He said the Government and PSC must understand the nature of all doctors' work, taking into consideration quality time.

"It is important that the Government and Public service settle this," he said.

Lealiifano said that many of the private practitioners understand what Government doctors are going through as they faced many of these problems when they served at the hospital.

April 20, 2005

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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