THREE hundred and nine (309) resident doctors have appealed to President Edgar Lungu to intervene in their plight to have their employment normalized as they risk losing five months’ worth of wages.

The resident doctors were employed on March 25, 2019, and deployed to their various stations on the said date, but were only given appointment letters from the Public Service Management Division (PSMD) in September, 2019 that stated that they were only employed on September 1, 2019, thereby, making it difficult for them to claim their dues that were not given to them during the five months that they had worked prior to receipt of the letters.

The doctors then wrote to the PSMD Permanent Secretary Boniface Chimbwali demanding payment of arrears, settling-in allowances and correction of the dates of employment.

But in response, PSMD Director of Special Duties notified them that the matter had been referred to the Ministry of Health.

“The division wishes to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 26th June, 2020, regarding the payment of salary arrears and settling-in allowance in respect of Junior Resident Medical Officers employed on 25th June, 2019. Kindly take note that the case has been referred to the Ministry of Health for consideration. You are, therefore, advised to follow up the matter with the Ministry,” read the response from the PSMD in part.

However, in an interview, representative Dr Brian Sampa expressed concern that resident doctors were being considered as having been illegally employed when they were publicly employed, with Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya having attended their induction ceremony.

“The main hold up here is that from what we’ve found so far, PSMD has not acknowledged that we were employed, but we have a letter from MoH and it’s not like it was done in private, they announced. I am sure you heard when they announced that government has employed 400 doctors, we were 309 and we even held a meeting, which was held with the Minister at Chainama and it was all over ZNBC, the induction ceremony. So, I don’t know why today, it comes out like PSMD was not aware and that we are illegally employed after six months. If they told us immediately that we were illegally employed, obviously, we wouldn’t have even gone for induction, they would have already chased us from work, but not after you work for six months and then in September, you are given another letter to say, ‘you were employed on 1st September’. So, we really need the President to help us. This is nothing political or anything, that’s why we are not even hiding, it’s a wrong thing which was done and people are trying to cover it up,” Dr Sampa complained.

“So now, we noticed that the biggest challenge we faced in our quest to ensure that this was done was that PSMD has not acknowledged or they don’t want to be part of this employment, it’s as if when MoH submitted at first when it was supposed to be done, they refused because our HR told us that when they met in Kabwe, they were told that, ‘no, you guys were employed illegally by the government so PSMD can only pay starting September,’ meaning all these months we won’t be paid, it’s just supposed to be like that. So, it has been quiet because no one has spoken out. Now we are just tired because we know the longer it takes, it will just die a natural death and we’ve been working like that.”

He added that the move to have the doctors sign new arrival advice forms to conform to September 1, 2019, meant that government was trying to forego the months that they had worked from March 25, 2019.

“So, when we were given this letter …on 1st September, we expected that we will be paid the arrears for all that time because that’s how it’s always been. Some of our friends actually got the arrears, but a lot of us never got anything and now after working for all those months, the HRs started bringing new arrival advice forms this year that we should change to 1st September as though that’s when we reported because we have been thinking that the government knows that they owe us so they are supposed to pay us that money and then we thought they are going to normalize this. But from the fact that they started now bringing in the issue of changing these, it meant that they wanted to erase it, they wanted to forego it. So all that time, we were trying to push through the RDAZ, but we saw that things were not moving so we decided to write a letter ourselves as a group, the 309 doctors,” narrated Dr Sampa.

“For us, we want the President to help us. It will just be a battle of Ministers, Ministries and no one wants to take up responsibility, but we know that if the President can help change this…because once they normalize this, we know that even the issue of payment of arrears and everything else can be done, so that’s why we are doing this.”