Botswana fires striking health workers

2011-05-17 14:30

Gaborone – The government of Botswana has fired all “essential” health workers who defied a court order to join an indefinite strike by public-sector employees, an official said today.

The fired personnel include doctors, nurses, pharmacists and cleaners who were employed in public hospitals and clinics and joined the month-old strike.

“We cannot keep people who have decided to go against a court order because that is lawlessness,” said the head of the Directorate of Public Service Management, Festinah Bakwena, in an interview with a local radio station.

“They have declared the strike indefinite so we cannot wait for them when we don’t know when they will come back to work.”

Bakwena declined to say how many workers had been fired.

A court ordered “essential services workers” back on the job on April 27 after some health workers joined the strike, forcing 27 clinics across the country to close.

Some workers had continued to defy the ruling even after a judge upheld it last week on appeal.

Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions spokesperson Goretse Kekgonegile questioned whether the government would go through with the threat to fire striking health workers.

“We take this as intimidation by government and don’t take the announcement seriously. However, if the government is serious we will protect our members,” he said.

The government closed all public primary and secondary schools yesterday after violent clashes between police and students angry over the strike, which has caused most classes to be cancelled.

Unions are demanding a 16% salary increase, but the government says it cannot afford more than 5%.

Diamond-rich Botswana has been praised as an African success story for its economic stability and growth, but was hit hard by the global financial crisis as demand for its gems plunged and revenues from a regional customs union also dived.

Government employees, who have not had a salary increase in three years, complain their buying power is shrinking in the face of inflation that hit 8.5% in March. 

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