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Ministry of Health explains delayed overtime payments

The Minister of Health, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers-Ah Kau, says monies owed to doctors for overtime work is late due to "teething problems that are being resolved" as a result of the recent merger between the National Health Services and the Ministry of Health.

She has also clarified that the frontline workers were never entitled to a measles allowance they claim they have been waiting for.

In a statement from the Ministry of Health in response to questions from the Samoa Observer, Faimalotoa said doctors have already been briefed to expect a delay in their overtime pay "due to systematic problems" as a result of the merge. 

Her comments come following revelations by the Samoa Observer that not only has money promised to doctors and nurses from the measles epidemic still not been paid out, but that doctors are now four weeks without overtime pay, for the second time this year.

"This is the first merged Budget for the Ministry of Health and has encountered some teething problems that are currently being resolved," the statement reads.

"The Acting Deputy Director General for Hospital and Clinical Services, at the time, Dr Monalisa Punivalu was briefed to inform the Doctors that overtime allowance for Doctors may not be received on time, and to expect delay due to systematic problems that arose in the processing of the allocated Budget for overtime. 

"With this being said, the Ministry of Health assures that the Doctors are appreciated, and is working to ensure that the Doctors receive all their overtime, and to ensure that payment of overtime is addressed in a timely fashion."

The Minister also clarified why frontline doctors and nurses are still waiting on a measles allowance that was promised to them for working significant hours during the measles epidemic.

She said the payment was a one-off payment for "non-essential" staff who were not entitled to overtime pay, as compensation for their extra work.

It means that workers who are entitled to overtime were not eligible for this one-off payment.

"This one-off measles allowance was endorsed by Cabinet upon submitting the request for compensation of staff (who do not qualify for overtime), who worked throughout the measles outbreak," she said. 

"During the Measles epidemic, all frontline workers were paid overtime. This was received every fortnightly pay day; the overtime payment was additional to the normal salary. Frontline workers are essential workers and are therefore entitled to claim overtime payment every fortnight.

"The Measles allowance was paid to staff who are not entitled to overtime but worked overtime throughout the whole measles outbreak. These particular staff fall within the ‘non-essential workers’ category and do not qualify to claim overtime."

Earlier this month, this newspaper reported that for two fortnights straight, doctors at the nation’s hospitals have not been paid for overtime, receiving instead just 80 hours of pay. For some doctors, overtime can go as high as 80 hours again as they serve Samoa’s sick and injured at the accident and emergency clinic.

It also revealed that despite an announcement in Parliament in February that the measles allowance, already several months late, was finally going to be paid out, the allowance has not yet been given to doctors and nurses, who were under the impression they qualified for this allowance also.

At the time, Minister Faimalotoa said that though the Ministry and Government have been busy, it is “not an excuse to hide behind," and that the allowance would be paid.

But doctors and nurses are increasingly feeling let down by their leadership, who are leaving them having to fight for their entitlements, while Ministry of Health administration staff have had their measles payment already.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer under the condition of anonymity, a senior nurse said while government officials got their measles allowance the frontline doctors and nurses are still waiting.

“It’s becoming the norm for us to chase after our pay that we are entitled to and benefits that our Government [has] been blowing the horn about in public forums,” the nurse said.

“This is sad and you wonder why our hospitals can't keep our nurses and doctors, because they feel they aren’t getting the support they should get from the administration.”

In July, doctors received two pay-cheques for their 80 hour weeks that were missing their overtime payments, sometimes totalling 80 hours again.

When they raised the matter with senior leadership, the Minister informed doctors the situation would be sorted out but not in time for their upcoming pay, last week, the Samoa Observer understands. 

Meanwhile, the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.), which is fully responsible for M.O.H. following the merger of the Ministry with the National Health Services, has not responded to questions over how doctor’s overtime payments have been missed.

It is the second time this year doctors at the nation’s hospitals have been short-changed on payday.

In February, the P.S.C. pushed through a radical policy change that had overtime shaved to a flat rate for all doctors, instead of based on their hourly rate.

The change left some doctors short hundreds of tala per week in overtime, and the Director-General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, himself intervened to ask P.S.C. to reverse the changes. 

Overtime was eventually restored a few weeks after Samoa Observer revealed that the changes had been implemented but senior doctors said they were never officially informed.

The following is the statement from the Ministry of Health in full: 

Responses to Samoa Observer Articles:

 1. “Govt owes doctors overtime pay” by Sapeer Mayron dated 2 August 2020:

In response to the article “Govt Owes Doctors overtime pay” in your 2nd August 2020 newspaper – The Ministry of Health clarifies all Doctors currently employed at the Ministry of Health receive their overtime every fortnight, which is additional to their normal salary every pay week. They continue to receive their normal salary every pay week and the delay has only been for their overtime. With this being said, the Ministry of Health assures that the Doctors are appreciated, and is working to ensure that the Doctors receive all their overtime, and to ensure that payment of overtime is addressed in a timely fashion.

 

This is the first merged Budget for the Ministry of Health and has encountered some teething problems that are currently being resolved. The Acting Deputy Director General for Hospital and Clinical Services, at the time, Dr Monalisa Punivalu was briefed to inform the Doctors that overtime allowance for Doctors may not be received on time, and to expect delay due to systematic problems that arose in the processing of the allocated Budget for overtime.

 2. “Frontline workers not paid promised measles allowance” by Lanuola Tusani Tupufia Ah Tong dated 3 August 2020:

In response to the article “Frontline workers not paid promised measles allowance” in your 3rd August 2020 newspaper – The Ministry of Health wishes to clarify as follows:

  1. During the Measles epidemic, all frontline workers were paid overtime. This was received every fortnightly pay day; the overtime payment was additional to the normal salary. Frontline workers are essential workers and are therefore entitled to claim overtime payment every fortnight.
  2. The Measles allowance was paid to staff who are not entitled to overtime but worked overtime throughout the whole measles outbreak. These particular staff fall within the ‘non-essential workers’ category and do not qualify to claim overtime.
  3.  The measles allowance was a one-off payment that was received by the non-essential staff involved in the measles outbreak and who are not entitled to overtime. This one-off measles allowance was endorsed by Cabinet upon submitting the request for compensation of staff (who do not qualify for overtime), who worked throughout the measles outbreak.
  4. Those who are entitled to claim overtime during the Measles outbreak do not qualify for the one-off payment called the measles allowance. The one-off measles allowance was to compensate all staff who are not entitled to claim any overtime (non-essential).


 

 

 


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