Community Counsellors Threaten to Strike

DISGRUNTLED community counsellors sent a delegation to present a list of grievances to Prime Minister Hage Geingob on Tuesday, but failed to do so. They have threatened to go on strike if their grievances are not addressed.

The community counsellors countrywide are unhappy with delays in incorporating them into government service which would enable them to enjoy benefits such as pension, medical aid cover, annual bonuses and salary increments.

The counsellors from all the 14 regions were trained in a programme for basic HIV-AIDS counselling which started in 2003 and as rapid HIV testing service providers to patients at public health facilities and outreaches points.

Speaking to The Namibian, the counsellors complained of the meagre salaries they get despite all their hard work. They also claimed that they are still not being recognised by the Ministry of Health and Social Services who took over their wing from the Namibia Red Cross Society.

“With no specific date and month, community counsellors countrywide will down tools,” said a spokesperson of the group, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.

“We are practically unrecognised community counsellors by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, even though we do work in hospitals, health centres and clinics all over Namibia,” he said.

The counsellors further complained that at times they are forced to work night shifts that are not indicated on their job descriptions and no overtime is paid for working extended hours.

They also said they are unhappy that for the past seven years, they are still being regarded as contractcasual workers. “The issue of community counsellors has come a long way since 2005. We tried to approach different unions and the Labour Office to no avail,” said the spokesperson, adding that they had not received any satisfactory answer to date.

When they approached the Prime Minister’s office they were unable to speak to Geingob but were asked to leave their letter of complaint with his office. They will now await an answer from the PM’s office. In their letter to Geingob, they wanted an explanation why community counsellors in Namibia are not getting the same salary although their salaries are funded by the same donor (USAID).

“We know that in Namibia NGOs like Intra health International, Catholic AIDS Action, LifelineChildline also recruited community counsellors like us, and these NGOs are also funded by Pepfar. They (counsellors) receive N$8 000 per month with benefits like bonuses, pension fund, transport allowances, medical aid and also get increments every year,” their letter said.

“They say we are the backbone of the health delivery service in Namibia when it comes to HIV-AIDS related cases, but they do not reward us. They say we have Grade 10 only, but even if we wish to improve our grades, the money (we receive) is not enough,” they further said adding that they have families to look after from their N$2 000 monthly salary.

Source : The Namibian