State Threatens to Take Action Against ‘Illegal Strikers’

by Aug 24, 2010All Articles

By Linda Ensor and Sarah Hudleston

23 August 2010

The government says it will take action against workers in essential services who continued to strike in defiance of a high court interdict ordering health, prison, police and emergency service personnel to return to work.

This morning a group of striking workers defied the court order when they prevented non-striking workers and patients from entering King Edward Hospital in Durban on Monday morning.

The five striking workers wearing National Education, Health, and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) t-shirts prevented workers and patients from entering the hospital. They only allowed entry to people who wanted to collect antiretroviral drugs.

A striking woman at the hospital said she was not aware of the court order.

Essential workers continuing to strike this week would be engaged in an illegal activity and subject to disciplinary processes, Department of Public Service and Administration spokesman Dumisani Nkwamba said.

According to trade unionists, these processes could result in dismissal.

The zero-tolerance approach is one of a series of tough stands taken by the government since it announced last Tuesday that there was no more room to negotiate on its final offer of a 7% annual salary increase and a R700 monthly housing allowance for public servants. Trade unions are striking for an 8,6% hike and a housing allowance of R1000 a month.

Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi has imposed a “no work, no pay” rule and said security forces will be deployed to prevent disruption.

Last week, some patients died in public hospitals and others were refused treatment. Schooling was disrupted in most parts of SA.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployed more of its medical teams to assist at strike-hit hospitals yesterday.

SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said multidisciplinary teams of the South African Military Health Service are working at 32 hospitals.

Several unions yesterday vowed to continue the strike, with nurses threatening to extend it to private hospitals.

On Friday, an urgent ruling in the Johannesburg Labour Court ordered that doctors, nurses and other essential services staff return to work. On Saturday afternoon, the KwaZulu-Natal government secured a court interdict preventing striking public servants from barricading hospitals and intimidating nonstriking workers.

The Democratic Nurses Organisation of SA has insisted the strike will continue until the government has met its demands. Spokesman Asanda Fongqo warned yesterday of a “secondary strike” that could hit private hospitals, saying, “The government is shortsighted in not meeting our demands.”

Some relief appeared to be in sight as the general secretary of the Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of SA , Noel Desfontaines, told Business Day yesterday the union has instructed its members in essential services to return to work.

Chris Kloppers, of the Independent Labour Council, said Mr Baloyi met the council on Friday to discuss violence and intimidation during the strike.

“I do feel that the government needs to display some mature leadership in this issue,” he said.

“It is possible for them to take the lead and end the strike. This issue is not only about remuneration. There are other issues that need to be addressed.

“We know the strike has to end some time soon. It cannot go on indefinitely, despite the threats,” Mr Kloppers said.

Mr Desfontaines urged the public service to allow essential services staff to picket during their lunchtime, “as refusal to allow them to show solidarity with their colleagues who are on strike has resulted in many health workers not reporting to work and further fuelling the resentment of fellow health workers”.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union spokesman Sizwe Pamla said he expects the strike to continue for another week. “We are hoping that the government will sit down with us and at the end of the process we will find each other,” he said.

Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland said Netcare has taken over the care of 160 patients so far, most of them infants in Gauteng. He appealed for volunteers to help at public hospitals.

Dr Friedland said he is full of admiration for the leadership shown by Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who “rolled up her sleeves and helped sort out the dire situation at Natalspruit Hospital”. With Sapa

Source: Business Day

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