Medical Association backs doctors overtime plight

The President-elect of the Samoa Medical Association, Leniu Dr. Asaua Fa'asino, has highlighted the importance of doctors in the public service being fairly paid for what is often described as exhausting working hours.

She also said the Samoa Medical Association (S.M.A.) stands ready to help its colleagues in the public sector, as they await their late overtime wages, a result of what the Ministry of Health has described as budget teething problems.

“They get tired, they get psychologically exhausted and then physically,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“Having their overtime helps, it’s a boost of their morale to work in these difficult times with the [doctor] shortage.”

At the S.M.A.’s first meeting since before the state of emergency on Wednesday, doctors raised the issue of late-paid overtime at the hospital with the Executive.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer after the meeting, Leniu said that the overtime issue is an internal matter for M.O.H., but that the S.M.A. is “here to help” in collaboration with the Ministry.

“There has been no official request for the association to help but we have been informed. So we are doing our part to help by following up and make sure they get their overtime," she said.

“What I have been told is that the matter has been discussed and followed through within the Ministry with the responsible people. It has been taken care of.”

Earlier this month it was revealed that M.O.H. doctors have been waiting four weeks for their overtime wages, which can total up to 80 hours a fortnight for some doctors.

On Tuesday evening, Minister of Health Faimalotoa Kika Stowers Ah-Kau told the Samoa Observer in an emailed statement, that the overtime payment delay is the fault of a systematic error in the budget.

She said it is a “teething” issue, resulting from the first budget for a re-merged Ministry of Health and National Health Services being operational, and processing overtime should be fixed soon.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Her comments were made five days after questions on the overtime delays were sent by the Samoa Observer. Also addressed in those questions, but not in the response, were queries over how this matter would be handled better in future, and how its repetition might be avoided.

It is the second time this year doctors have been disappointed on payday. In February, a Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) policy change saw doctor’s overtime wages be reduced to a flat rate plus time and a half, instead of calculated against their salary - a change no one had been informed of.

This change had to be reversed until detailed consultations could be undertaken with the Ministry employees. The Samoa Observer understands this has not happened yet. 

S.M.A. President-elect Leniu said unfortunately systematic problems happen everywhere and are to be expected.

“I know it happens in all workplaces, there are issues with how a system works, not only with finances but with every area of services within every workplace.

“It’s something to expect but having said that it’s something we have to be alert about, that the welfare of doctors is well looked after.”

She said she found the Ministry’s response plausible, adding she expected the first two years at least of the re-merge of M.O.H. and the National Health Service to be rocky.

Nobody is perfect, Leniu said, but hopefully the problems will be addressed swiftly.

“To those who are affected it’s very serious and they feel like giving up already.

“Everybody needs to be acknowledged, be remunerated.”

The Public Service Commission and the Ministry of Finance have been approached for comment.

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