As the Project Coordinator, human resource management fall under my responsibility and with almost 100 Congolese staff working in our project this is a big part of my job.
So what exactly does this mean? It means working with the supervisors to reduce the amount of overtime their staff works. Making sure that employees get 3 days off for the birth of their child or 6 for a death. Ensuring everyone has a valid contract (last month alone we had 7 people whose contracts finished or were renewed). It is promotions and recommendations, but also warnings and suspensions. Health care for family members, transportation allowances and per diems. It is conflict resolution. It is all of this and so much more. Throw in some French, a bit of corruption and a culture that is completely foreign and you get can start to understand how my days here in Dubie are just flying by.
We're only managers
This is the behind-the-scenes part of MSF that no one really considers when donating money to help save lives and alleviate suffering. However, when you do think about it, it makes sense. We are running a hospital with over 100 beds and, just as it does back in Canada, this requires staff. You still need to have doctors on call, nurses working night shifts and labtechs who can be called in case an urgent blood transfusion is needed. You need cleaners and cooks and receptionists and guards. And you need people to supervise everyone.
When expats leave for the field for the first time, a common misconception is that they will be totally hands-on in their work. That the nurse will be changing dressings and the logistician will be fixing generators. While this is more valid for certain positions (i.e. surgeons) and in certain projects (i.e. the emergency response in Haiti), for the most part expats find themselves in the role of supervisor and spend a lot more time managing staff than they do managing patients or their fleet of landcruisers. In Dubie, for example, the expat nurse manages over 30 Congolese nurses.
It is true that, at the local level, it is hard to find qualified doctors and nurses. Dubie is a village without electricity and where access is practically a footpath, so you can imagine that it is difficult to get a University education in town. However, this is not the case for bigger cities where there are various public and private institutions that produce graduates of a decent caliber. While this means we end up bringing most of our medical staff in from the big cities, it is definitely possible to find qualified staff in the Congo.
MSF is in fact a significant employer in Katanga and we do our best to act as a responsible one. Although it may be hard to imagine that in a country with such a HUGE unemployment rate (when I look online, all I can find is “n/a”!!) and a fairly minimal economy, the DRC actually has incredibly complex labor laws. A legacy left by the Belgians when they granted independence to their former colony, this is one thing that has actually survived the dictatorship of Mobutu, the war that followed the end of his reign and the fragile peace after that.
MSF takes pride in treating their staff well and, as project coordinator, it is my job to make sure that this is implemented fairly at the field level and across all positions. In reality, it means that I spend a lot of time discussing promotions, approving overtime and checking paystubs, but I think that so far we are doing OK!