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Protesting healthcare workers return to work after MEC intervention

Nomakhosazana Meth, MEC Eastern Cape Health. Photo: Archive


Eastern Cape health workers who had been protesting for about a month returned to work on Thursday.

This followed a marathon meeting on Wednesday between Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth, unions and senior provincial and district health officials over the ongoing unprotected strike at Nelson Mandela Bay.

On Wednesday, City Press reported that the department had won an interim court injunction against unions and their members, after weeks of disruptions, intimidation and the unlawful closure of health facilities in parts of Nelson Mandela Bay.

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According to the ministry, the strike began in early April due to a shortage of staff at the Motherwell Community Health Centre. However, on Thursday morning, the department said workers had called off the strike after being told that five of the eight professional nurses who had passed interviews for vacancies at the health center would report for work beginning Thursday.

The department also promised to expedite the appointment of 20 general workers to Gqeberha.

“We are happy to have managed to reunite with the unions and they have agreed that they will return to work,” said Meth, adding:

Our people will be able to get the crucial services that have been interrupted for the past two weeks.

The meeting came after the department won an interim court injunction against unions and their members and threatened to implement the ‘no work, no pay’ policy after some workers refused to return to work , despite legal instructions to do so.

Meth described the meeting as robust and candid, saying it was the start of many engagements to follow. “Issues discussed at the meeting included staffing shortages, emergency medical services, infrastructure issues and general maintenance. To remedy the situation, the ministry has made a commitment to the unions that recruitment processes will be underway to fill the eight vacant positions for professional nurses.

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Meth said the screening was supposed to take place on Thursday, but had to be moved to another date as they planned to have the interviews on May 12 and 13.

Meth asked senior management to submit full reports to his office on the number of jobs for Nelson Mandela Bay included in the annual recruitment plan.

This comes as over R700 million has been budgeted for the current financial year to fill over 2,900 funded positions.

The unions have demanded that the principle of “no work, no pay” not be applied for the days of absence of employees. Meth has committed to dialogue with management regarding this request.

She called on union leaders not to embark on an unprotected strike without again exhausting internal processes.

The unions appreciated the pledge, but questioned why the department had sought an interim court order. On this, Meth said going to court was necessitated by the disruption of services.

“The ban is to protect our facilities. It is impossible that when people decide to withdraw their services, there will be chaos and anarchy. We cannot allow this. Let’s not let threats and intimidation come left, right and center. I still believe that even if there is a ban, we can still find each other,” she said.

She urged unions to allow recruitment processes to proceed, saying the department is committed to filling vacancies, within available budget.

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