New Health Minister admits doctors are underpaid ahead of national march
Introducing himself to the media last week, new Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, acknowledged that public sector health professionals, including doctors, are under-paid.
‘I want to make it clear, that the issue of whether doctors and other health professionals are underpaid or not, is not up for debate. Their remuneration does not satisfy us as well. The issue under debate, is when and how, this problem will be solved. The remuneration of health professionals is not going to be an event, but a process’, said Dr Motsoaledi.
He made the comment when doctors are currently engaged in a tussle with government over the implementation of an Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD) pay package. Doctors in key hospitals around the country have embarked on lunch-hour pickets to show their dissatisfaction.
The Health Minister announced that he would be consulting with his colleagues ‘within the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to speedily resolve issues relating to the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD), in the public health care sector’.
Amongst other things, the OSD aims to adjust salaries for doctors to be in line with their qualifications and experience. The salary adjustments were due for implementation last July. The Health Department blames the delay on problems that resulted in the implementation of the same program in the nursing profession.
‘Because of challenges that we faced with the nurses’ OSD, mainly over-expenditure, challenges around different implementation in the provinces, we had to go back and correct those things and make sure that when we develop the one for doctors and others (health workers), we are perfectly sure about the robustness of the program.
Secondly, (it was) the issue of funds, a lot of funds had been taken up by nursing’, said Dr Percy Mahlathi, the Deputy Director-General of Human Resources at the Department of Health.
However, doctors on the ground are running out of patience.
‘We have waited now for 10 months and we’ve been told that ‘you will get your salary adjustment; you will be paid accordingly’,’ said Dr Rapitsi Malatji, spokesperson for the United Doctors’ Forum (UDF), a disgruntled group of doctors.
Dr Bandile Hadebe, National Chairperson of the Junior Doctors Association of SA (Judasa), which is affiliated to SAMA, said his association is sharply opposed to Government’s current offer, which excludes junior doctors from the adjustment of salaries.
‘It shows a sign that there is lack of clear thinking on the part of government. One of the non-negotiables is that OSD has to cover junior doctors’, said Dr Hadebe.
Both SAMA and the UDF do not see eye to eye on how to approach the matter with government. SAMA is preparing for a national march to be held on the 29th of May, after which a possible strike will follow if their demands are not met. On the other hand, the UDF is threatening to go on an immediate full-blown strike.
However, Government has cautioned doctors against embarking on a strike.
‘It’s not that doctors cannot be fired’, warned Dr Mahlathi.