Government shows double standard when it addresses nurses’ pay rise proposal strike

The Prime Minister’s dealing with the nurse’s proposal to increase their pay appears to show that he has two opposing policies.

Some of the nurses who arrived at the Palace Office with their petition to the king. Photo/Supplied

One policy seems to be to easily approve the Prime Minister’s demands from the budget and the other appears to be to hinder civil servants from asking for money from the public purse. 

Nurses in Tonga staged an early morning strike today as a result of their disappointment with the Minister of Health’s handling of their proposal for a pay rise.

Hon. Saia Piukala attempted to downplay the situation by repeatedly saying he had held meetings with the nurses about their proposal. However, at one stage, he admitted that he was unhappy when he found out the nurses had marched to the king with their proposal this morning.

In Tongan Hon. Piukala said: ““Me’apango toki mahino ia he pongipongi ni kuo fai ‘enau laka mo e tohi tangi ki He’ene ‘Afio”.

Hon. Piukala said during a press conference this afternoon he and his chief executive officer had proposed some changes to the nurses in some of their meetings to make their proposal look good (“’hā lelei”).

He said some of the changes he suggested included the percentage the nurses demanded the Cabinet approve for their pay rise.

He also said they had agreed on all the changes and he was awaiting the final draft so he could submit it to the Cabinet for a decision. He said he was surprised when he heard about the strike, but respected their decision as they have the rights to approach the king.

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He said the Ministry quickly mobilised staff to relieve the strikers this morning.

He said the nurses had told the chief executive they would return to work after submitting their proposal to the royal palace office. 

The peaceful march without banners was led by the Vaiola Hospital Matron Sr ‘Akesa Uili Halatanu followed by about 100 nurses.

The proposal

Broadcaster Katalina Tohi told the Minister the nurses had been disappointed because they failed to reach an agreement with him despite several meetings.

Tohi said the nurses were also upset after being forced to work extra shifts after many nurses left to take up jobs overseas. She said the nurses had to work up to 12 hours and they did not get enough rest.

The Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku said he had yet to receive the nurses’ proposal, but he has to consider the “affordability” of the pay rise demanded.

He said there was also a need to consider the rest of the civil servants when dealings with the proposal.

He also said the cabinet has approved cost of living allowance worth $11 million for all civil servants to start in January.

Criticisms against PM

Critics have blasted the Prime Minister, labelling his response as being two-faced. They accused Hon. Hu’akavameiliku of increasing the budget without going through Parliament as required by the law. 

Hon Hu’akavameiliku had been accused of increasing the government’s overseas travelling budget by TP$8 million from TP$13 million to TP$21 million.

As Kaniva News reported previously, MP Piveni Piukala claimed this was unlawful because the law says the government can only make an increase of 10 percent, or TP$1.3 million. Any changes to the budget that is more than that must be submitted to Parliament.

The Prime Minister had also been accused of falsifying the budget to hide the investment of millions of pa’anga on Lulutai airlines and the continuing appointment of Cabinet ministers as members of the Lulutai board of directors, despite the law saying they can only be members within one year. Lulutai airlines was incepted in 2020.   

Commenters on Democratic supporters Facebook groups questioned the Prime Minister’s response and compared it to the Parliament’s recent pay rise which was only approved through a circular savingram being circulated around MPs to tick a yes or no answers.

“Funny how the government increased the traveling budget by $8 million without considering people’s other needs now they told the nurses they have to consider other civil servants before making decision on their proposal”, a commenter wrote.

“Nurses should not return to work until their petition is dealt with”, another wrote.

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