Samoa Health Worker Shortage Prompts Call To Review Overtime Law

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Labour Ministry says focus should be on funding hospital, not law

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Oct. 1, 2014) – The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, Auelua Samuelu Enari, is adamant.

He believes there is absolutely no need for the government to change the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, despite it being labelled as a "very dangerous" piece of legislation for patients.

The description was given by a doctor, Sa’olele Dr. Talalei Va’a, who said the law as it is was putting people’s lives at risk.

The Act, he claims, says that no employee in Samoa can work for more than four hours overtime. According to him, since the Act came into force, many essential services at the hospital are no longer available 24 hours due to "continuing shortage of health professionals."

Yesterday, Auelua told the Samoa Observer that it is vital to separate the issues.

"Changing the Act will not help their cause," said the C.E.O.

"To say that the Labour Act is dangerous is also very wrong. Firstly, the Act exists to protect the rights of employees and employers. It also exists to protect the beneficiaries of the services provided by the employers and employees, to ensure that they get quality service".

"Now, every human being has limitations. They can only work for so long during the day. I don't think anybody would like a doctor who has been working for more than 12 hours to operate on them. This is the sort of situation the Act stops from happening".

Auelua said the issue at the National Health Services (N.H.S) has nothing to do with the Labour Act; rather it has everything to do with the "shortage of health professionals".

"So these are two separate issues. Whereas the Law protects workers and the people they serve, the shortage of workers at the hospital is an administration matter for the management. These are two completely different matters". Auelua said Sa’olele therefore, is barking up the wrong tree.

"They should ask the government to invest more money in the sector so that lives are not put at risk". From the M.C.I.L’s perspective, Auelua said, their role is to help facilitate more investments so that the government could recruit more doctors and health workers.

"As for the Ministry of Health and N.H.S, they should be proactive in dealing with agencies of the government where money can be obtained so they can attract more workers".

The Chief Executive Officer pointed out that when the safety and rights of workers are compromised, people’s lives are endangered.

Auelua also said, the Act is in line with the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O) requirements under the I.L.O Convention, to which Samoa is a signatory.

"So the law is a step forward for Samoa, recognising the rights of workers and the importance of the need for these workers to be fully prepared to perform their duties," he said,

"It is in line with our international obligations under I.L.O. If anything, the law as it stands is a positive step for Samoa".

Asked if the Ministry of Health has raised any concerns with them, Auelua said no.

He noted, however, that it was interesting to find out through the newspaper that the Ministry of Health is undergoing a review of the law and its impact on the delivery of services by N.H.S.

Auelua also pointed out that the consultation before the Bill was submitted before Parliament to be passed, was wide ranging and everyone – including the Ministry of Health – was given an opportunity to contribute.

The preparation work for the Law – including public consultation – started in 2009.

Parliament only passed the bill in 2013.

"The consultation process therefore was very thorough. Everyone was given the opportunity to be engaged and contribute.

"The Ministry of Health was certainly heavily involved in the process".

Last weekend, the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, confirmed that a special Committee has been appointed to review the implementation of the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, in relation to NHS.

The review will result in a paper to be submitted to the Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr. Talalelei Tuitama, where any concerns identified will be highlighted.

Leausa said since the implementation of the Act, the Ministry "has received a lot of complaints from patients".

Leausa said part of the review would consider the positive aspects of the Act.

On the other hand, he wants to make sure that the health care concerns of the nation is placed above every thing else, so that even patients using the district hospitals are all catered for.

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