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South Sudan Hospital Workers Strike over Bonuses

Jehan Deng, Minister of Health and the Environment for Jonglei state, shown here at the Voice of America town hall in Juba in March 2013, has called on striking hospital workers in Bor to return to work for the sake of patients.
Almost the entire staff of the main hospital in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, walked out on strike this week over bonuses they say have not been paid for five months.

More than 250 workers walked off the job after a petition they submitted to the state ministry of health, demanding the bonuses of around 500 South Sudanese pounds (130 U.S. dollars) a month be restored, was ignored.

The striking workers say their salaries alone, which are between 300 and 700 South Sudanese pounds a month, are not enough to live on.

The per capita income in South Sudan is around U.S. $1,300 a year, thanks in large part to revenues from oil.

Hospital officials say the bonuses were suspended after austerity measures were introduced in the state following Juba's shutdown of oil production last year.

When oil production resumed earlier this month, the hospital staff decided it was time to demand that their bonuses be paid.

The minister of health for Jonglei, Jehan Mechak Deng, urged the medical workers to return to work for the sake of their patients.

"Leave alone the fact of money – let us talk humanity," she said.

"Yes, you have rights; yes, you have benefits. But would you be able to sleep peacefully when you just left someone dying in the hospital?”

Deng said she will work to resolve the health workers' grievances as quickly as possible, but added that it would be difficult to pay out more money "in the middle of austerity measures."

Even though South Sudan has resumed oil production, revenues from oil have not yet started to come in to state coffers again.

The strikers vowed to continue their work stoppage until they are paid their bonuses.