A wound not yet healed – nurses’ covid-19 allowance saga

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Frustrated nurses stand to gather and requesting relevant authorities to address the non-payment of covid-19 allowance claims.
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BY MAVIS NISHIMURA PODOKOLO

THE prime minister’s quick-fix approach to the nurses’ demands will return to haunt government and the country one day.

The saga, simply put, entails nurses asking government to pay them covid allowances and the government responding by gagging nurses.

Nurses had protested from October 30-31 to stress their demand to government to pay them covid-19 allowance following government’s refusal to do so in prior talks.

The nurses justify their allowance-demand saying that in their duties they deal with covid-19 related cases.

Prime Minister Sogavare responded by invoking the absolute powers bestowed upon him under the state of emergency and suspending SINA, the only legal body through which nurses can collectively exercise their rights to better conditions, welfare, freedom of expression, etc.

Government’s covid-19 oversight committee followed through with the publicising of nurses’ allowance pay structure, which although did not include a covid-19 allowance, by Solomon Islands’ third-world standards, was indeed substantial. This was coupled with reminders of morality and nurses’ ethics.

This move by government had its desired effect of turning public opinion against nurses. But, citizens who see through government’s smoke-screen think otherwise.

Following government’s harsh response, individual nurses and citizens are accusing government of misleading public and removing any chance for dialogue towards resolving the nurses’ covid-19 allowance problem.

Government so far pays covid-19 allowance to only 73 nurses; these include frontline and support nurses whose duties involve covid-19 patients – anything related to covid-19.

The rest of the nurses do not get covid-19 allowance; government says they are not entitled to it because they do not deal with covid-19 cases.

However, nurses believe otherwise. In their courses of duty, many of them have come to realise that they are involved in covid-19 matters, activities and events just as much as the 73 who get covid-19 allowance.

Speaking in anonymity, senior nurses explain their plight to Island Sun, saying what government had disclosed to the public on October 31 was the nurses’ business-as-usual allowances and did not contain covid-19 allowance.

The oversight committee had explained that there is no need for covid-19 allowance because some existing allowances have already covered for covid-19 related work.

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But, the senior nurses counter this claim saying the 73 being paid covid-19 allowance also have the same allowances as the rest of them but still get covid-19 allowances.

Government, the nurses say, had twisted the issue to make it look like the nurses are greedy, wanting more. But, the truth is, they say, nurses only seek fairness and justice.

Earlier this year, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared covid-19 a pandemic, the nurses say Health Ministry’s permanent secretary Pauline McNeil told the Solomon Islands Nurse Association (SINA) that nurses will be paid covid-19 allowance beginning when Solomon Islands registers its first covid-19 case. This verbal agreement was never put to black-and-white and signed. (During the nurses’ protest the covid-19 allowance demanded is understood to be $1,000 for nurses in emergency zones and $250 for those in non-emergency zones)

However, following this discussion, in a consultation between the Covid-19 Oversight Committee and SINA on October 4 this year, a day after the country’s first case was announced, the Committee told SINA that only the 73 nurses who have been earmarked for frontline duties will be paid covid-19 allowance.

The nurses tell Island Sun that they accepted this and continued duties. However, since then they experience that everyday they come across something that involves covid-19.

“We asked the national government to pay us the covid-19 allowance because we are dealing with covid-19 related cases at the National Referral Hospital, Honiara City Council Clinics and our hospital and clinics in the provinces.

“Our covid-19 related engagement is through our emergency structure in which we have events that are covid-19 related in clinics and at the National Referral Hospital.

“These happenings are done through the established clinical committees. These activities are segregation of patients in clinics and hospital which was caried out at Rove Clinic for example. And nurses have been participating in these activities to identify and detect any suspected case of covid-19.

“Successful implementation of the covid-19 emergency structures in clinics has led to lock down of Rove, Kukum and Mbokonavera clinics. This is due to suspected cases of covid-19 patients picked out through the emergency structure practised since covid-19 was declared as a global pandemic.”

The nurses said they are not asking for an increase but for covid-19 allowance which had been promised them.

Fast forward to this week, government it seems is out for blood. It is not content on just suspending the association, SINA, but is going after the association workers.

Early this week, eight senior nurses who had worked for SINA, received their suspension letters from the Ministry of Public Service, placing them on half-pay pending investigations.

This saga has been a much-discussed topic on social media. Amid the hundreds of comments, there is one which warns Solomon Islanders to be wary of ‘divide and conquer’ tactics by authorities.

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