Solomons Health Workers May Protest Unpaid Allowances

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Workers reportedly still waiting for arts festival payments

By Daniel Namosuaia

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Nov. 8, 2012) – Health workers are threatening to stage a sit-in protest over the non-payment of their duty allowances totaling SB$1.9 million [US$256,690] for the work done during the Festival of Pacific Arts (FOPA) in July.

A senior health worker who wishes to remain anonymous said they are now very frustrated that they never received payment since the festival.

"The government had just spent SB$96,000 [US$12,969] in the public servants fellowship on catering last Sunday and yet ignored us. This is really frustrating and is putting us off.

"We have waited for so long now. We would like to receive something before the end [of] year break," the health spokesman said.

More than one hundred health workers have been engaged during the festival to assist with the two weeks event.

Until today their efforts are yet to be paid and this has generated frustration amongst the health workers.

The health officer said an estimated SB$1.9 million was due to them and that must be sorted out before next month.

"If FOPA and the government through the responsible ministry fail to pay us then we are planning to stage a sitting protest.

"And we believe this is not what the citizens of this country wants to see happen. Therefore if the government and FOPA are very serious and see our services as very important, then they must act quickly.

"Otherwise our action will affect health services in the country, depriving innocent people of their right for good health," the officer added.

In response interim FOPA director Robert Au said the allowances of the medical workers was initially planned to be paid under their ministry.

"However when their budget was submitted to the ministry of finance, the ministry return it to FOPA. But when it reaches us, we already submitted our supplementary budget worth $14.5million which was passed in parliament recently," Mr. Au said.

Mr. Au added if it had reached his office in time before their submission, they would have included their payments in the budget and the health workers will be paid before the year ends.

He however added this matter has already been referred to the permanent secretary (PS) of the ministry of health to consult with the PS of culture and tourism to discuss and come up with something amicable.

The Permanent Secretary for culture and Tourism John Wasi when contacted echoed similar sentiments.

Mr. Wasi said he sympathized with the health workers but he can’t do much to help.

He said initially the health allowances were allocated under their ministry but later was rejected by the ministry of finance.

"But when it was brought to us, we cannot do anything to it because we have already submitted our ministry’s supplementary budget," Mr. Wasi said.

He said what his ministry will do now is prioritize those payments under the supplementary budget.

"Unless there is a surplus or we get extra funds somewhere, we cannot pay the health workers this year," Mr. Wasi added.

However he said the only possibility is to put forward their outstanding payment for next year’s budget.

But he added that the health committee members are the only ones getting paid since they were under the FOPA budget.

PS of the ministry of health Dr. Lester Ross was not available to comment since he is overseas. However the ministry’s under secretary Dr. Cedric Alependeva when contacted said he is not in a position to comment on the issue.

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