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Excessive overtimes paid to some medical doctors revealed

Staff Reporters

APIA, SAMOA – 30 JUNE 2023: Excessive overtimes and allowances between $10,000 a week to $150,000 a year for one junior doctor have been revealed in Parliament.

The Minister of Health, Valasi Togamaga Selesele boldly explained the situation as negotiations between the Public Service Commission and the Samoa Medical Association  drew to a close 30 June as the medical doctors threatened to work only normal hours from 8.00am to 5.00pm and not night shifts as of 01 July 2023.

PSC proposed to pay overtime at the normal rate of pay for all permanent employees at their existing salaries up to the level of $68,695 per annum. PSC says this is a substantial deviation or increase from the fixed rate of $18,494 currently applied to all other essential services.

The offer also included Contract Employees who are not entitled to overtime, considered a Responsibility Allowance at the range of 30% to 60% of basic salaries. PSC said the Responsibility Allowance comprises of all other Allowances received under the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013; on-call allowances, call back allowance, emergency allowance and health and safety allowance.

“In essence Contract Officers in the Health Services including Doctors will receive an additional 50-60% increase on top of their base salaries without any pay cuts as currently speculated,” said PSC.

Two entities under separate working conditions and guidelines
Central to the dissatisfaction is unpaid overtime and entitlements for some medical staff when health services were provided by two separate entities – the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Health Services (NHS) since 2006.

NHS operated under the Labour and Employment Relations Act (LERA) 2013, where overtime were paid at the normal rate of pay regardless of the salary and position. MOH was under the PSC guidelines.

The Minister of Health said these entitlements reached $15 to $16 million tala a year “due to the difference in the guidelines used.”

“The National Health Services under the Labour Employment Relations Act provisions accumulated excessive costs in particular for the payment of staff entitlements which reached an unsustainable level and affected available funding for other Hospital operations.”

In 2018, the Government approved to merge of the National Health Services (NHS) and the Ministry of Health. This meant all former NHS workers, who were governed under the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, would now be subject to the terms and conditions prescribed under the Public Service Act 2004.

However, despite a Cabinet decision for the merge to be implemented 01 January 2019, the merge was never completed and the working conditions for those previously under NHS still applied.

Boldly, the Minister said, these issues should have been dealt with already and said this had been used by medical staff to pressure and threat the government and had been left unsettled.

“They do not want to go back under the PSC working terms and conditions as they want to keep the high salaries,” said Valasi. “The merge should have been completed already.”

Against the demands for high entitlements, the Minister questioned the quality of the health service provided against the entitlements claimed.

“If increasing number of patients are sent to be treated overseas, renal cases are increasing….what is happening?” Valasi told parliament.

He also inferred that the entitlements paid to some were unjustified as some doctors who were on call would be doing that work on the telephone from home.

Then he asked the doctors to stop opposing what PSC has proposed and inferred that any doctors with political affiliation should run for parliament and become politicians.

The Prime Minister supported Valasi and clarified that the Ministry of Health and staff are under the Public Service Commission and the Samoa Medical Association deals with the Ministry and not PSC.

She also added that upwards of $400,000 had been paid out to one medical officer under these employment conditions.

The Minister said only a few medical staff are objecting and he thanked the Public Service Commission and management of the Ministry of Health in pursuing what’s in the best interest of the country.

Opposition MP Maulolo Tavita pointed out how come these excessive overtime payments were not detected by the Auditor General.

The Minister also stated that the personality clashes and in fighting within medical staff was one of the worst compared to other sectors in the public service. This has driven the division and dragged the decision to merge MOH and NHS as the Cabinet’s decision in 2018 for the merge to commence 01 January 2019.