Backdown on overtime pay cuts

A major cut to hospital staff's overtime pay been overturned, after the Samoa Observer revealed doctors were walking out on shifts instead of being paid up to two-thirds less than their usual wages. 

The change restores the way in which senior medical staff have their overtime calculated to a formula derived from their salaries rather than flat rates which can be several times less.

Earlier this month, the Samoa Observer reported that dramatic cuts to overtime rates had prompted major protests from doctors and led the Director-General of the Ministry to write to the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) asking for the new overtime policy to be suspended.

The new policy was brought in by the P.S.C. in response to changes relating to the re-merger of the National Health Service and the Ministry of Health.  

Where previously doctors received overtime pay of their own salaries plus time and a half, or double time, the new scheme would have them paid according to a flat, medium-band rate of pay. 

For senior doctors or head of units, that equated to a pay cut of two-thirds their expected wages for working beyond their expected 42 hours a week.

Doctors reported being shocked to see drastically reduced pay cheques and protested they were not given advance notice of the changes. 

“We strongly feel that this constitutes unfair remuneration for Doctors,” a letter to the M.O.H and P.S.C. leadership and the Prime Minister stated.

A source inside the hospital confirmed that last week, payslips revealed that overtime rates had been returned to normal, and staff calls to the human resources department confirmed that staff would be back-paid their previously worked overtime.

But neither the leadership of the hospital nor the human resources department appear to have made any formal announcement on the changes, nor how long they would last.

In their letter to the hospital and public service leadership dated February 11, doctors said the paycut resulted in a “noticeable drop in morale.

“Doctors feel disheartened, angry and unappreciated,” the letter states.

In response, Leausa wrote to the P.S.C. asking for the policy to be suspended until more consultation with doctors could be conducted.

“There needs to be thorough consultation and dialogue to ensure than an agreed compromise is met, and to ensure there is smooth transition,” the Ministry's Director-General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri said. 

“The reduction in the overtime rates has been drastic. […] It is the Ministry’s request that the Commission put on hold the implementation of the new policy in relation to overtime rates of Doctors until formal consultation has taken place with the doctors.”

Emails sent to Leausa, and the Chairman of the P.S.C., Aiono Musa Sua on Friday were not responded to.

The overtime changes were part of a raft of policy adjustments made in the wake of the re-merger of the M.O.H and the National Health Service (N.H.S). 

A list of the changes from the N.H.S. Working Conditions and Entitlements manual to the general Government manual (W.C.E.M 2015) reveals the rationale for the changes.

“Overtime is the costliest personnel expense affecting budget and now inherited by M.O.H. since the merge.

“To better manage the situation, overtime must comply with the P.S.C. W.C.E.M 2015 until the review is completed to include Call Backs and On Calls.”

It also recommends that the Ministry’s human resources department should work with the Ministry of Finance to calculate the impact of continuing to pay overtime at the old conditions.

When hospital doctors at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital learned of the changes in January, they requested a meeting with the P.S.C, but it was never granted.

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