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AWEIL - 24 Feb 2021

Over 400 health workers stage protests in N. Bahr al Ghazal

More than 400 employees of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in South Sudan's Northern Bahr al Ghazal State have laid down their tools in protest against what they call 'illegal taxation' on their National Social Insurance Funds (NSIF).

Since Tuesday, medical doctors, nurses, lab technicians, midwives, security guards, cleaners, and cooks have suspended their duties at Aweil Civil Hospital run by MSF and asked the employer to immediately reverse the order.

Speaking to Radio Tamazuj on Wednesday, the employees said the organization intends to tax 20% from their NSIF although the government and the National Revenue Authority (NRA) have assured them that the tax order is illegal.

The protesters' representative Deng Chan Chan said they approached the state labour ministry and the NRA in January last year and they were told to receive their social funds free of tax. 

"We are protesting the unreasonable taxation imposed by the National Revenue Authority on the National Social Security Insurance Fund (NSIF). In November 2020 the ministry of labour approved our money to be paid tax-free and then for reasons best known to MSF and the NRA, they came up with another document asking for the taxation of NSIF," Deng Chan said. "But when we went through the laws that are governing this institution, there is no single article talking about taxation on NSIF. We disputed this and we were told to follow this with our government. On the 25 of January 2020, we went to the state labour office of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and we received a letter that our money would be paid tax-free.'' 

He said they submitted the letter to MSF but were then asked to validate it with the NRA, which they did. But he says, "The office finally decided that they will not respect decisions that are made by the state government that the state government has to speak to the NRA to write a uniform document asking for the payment of tax-free NSIF. However, this has brought confusion and we decided on strike,'' Deng concludes.

Aweil Civil Hospital management says the current situation at the hospital is deplorable as health workers are on strike.

"The situation is deplorable. Of course, the MSF section used to treat children and pregnant mothers," said Dr. Wol Wol Akeen, the Director for Aweil Civil Hospital.  

According to the medical doctor, the state government has vowed to resolve the impasse as soon as possible.

For his part, Cyrus Paye the project coordinator for MSF in Northern Bahr al Ghazal State said the organization is concerned about the conditions facing the workers and called for patience until all the outstanding issues are resolved.

 The coordinator invites the complainers to express and peacefully advocate for their rights and cease any aggressive approach.

"I was once advocating for staff and I feel what you feel. I think you guys should all understand, don't fight for your right with aggression,'' he pleaded.