Over 800 health-care workers in southern provinces of Laos are calling on authorities to pay them for extra hours worked this year in hospitals and quarantine centers while trying to control the spread of coronavirus, according to sources in the one-party communist state.
However, official sources say that only regular salaries and special disbursements for disease control will be paid as Laos struggles to keep its economy on track amid business shutdowns and sharp reductions in the collection of taxes.
In the Outhoumphone district of Savannakhet province, 110 doctors and nurses have not yet been paid for overtime hours worked since March at centers set up to house over 3,000 Lao workers returning from Thailand, sources say.
“I haven’t received any overtime pay since December,” one nurse told RFA’s Lao Service on July 1.
“We’ve been checking returned workers for signs of infection with COVID, but we barely have enough money now to buy food,” the nurse said, adding, “We’ve been waiting for our pay month after month, but nothing has ever come.”
In Savannakhet’s Champhone district meanwhile, almost 200 doctors and nurses have still not been paid for overtime worked between January and June, one doctor said, telling RFA that pay for extra hours worked has always been paid in the past with the approval of upper-level managers.
“Here in Champhone, 182 doctors and nurses received just one month of overtime pay in December 2019, but we haven’t received any overtime pay yet for work we’ve done this year. Working for the government and the [ruling] Party is leaving us depressed,” he said.
“If we don’t receive our pay, we still have to work anyway,” he said. “It is impossible for us not to do our jobs.”
Government 'short on funds'
In Champassak province, in the country’s southwest, 550 doctors and nurses working in the provincial hospital have still not been paid for overtime worked from January to June, but understand the province has no funds with which to pay them during the present shutdown, one doctor said.
“The authorities don’t have our money yet because of COVID-19. Even though our pay has been cut, we just go ahead with our duties and do our jobs well, and we plant vegetables when we’re at home” he said.
“We use our regular salaries to live as usual, and we will receive [the rest] whenever it is given to us,” he said. “We understand that the government needs to have an income, so we will be given our pay sooner or later depending on their circumstances.”
Reductions in state revenue, including a three-month drop in income tax payments, have left the Lao government unable now to pay for overtime worked by doctors and nurses for the last six to seven months, a government official in Savannakhet told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Income tax collected has fallen short of earlier projections, with only 33 to 34 percent collected during these last six months of what we usually get,” the official said.
“Additionally, the Ministry of Finance has announced that health care workers will now receive only their regular pay in addition to special disbursements to control coronavirus spread,” he said.
Calls from RFA seeking comment from officials in the capital Vientiane rang unanswered.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Manichanh Phimphachanh. Written in English by Richard Finney.