A staggering 3 639 work stoppages, dating as far back as September last year, is yet another crisis that has hit the troubled Gauteng health department – something that has affected many public hospitals.
Failure by the provincial health department to negotiate an essential services agreement with unions to safeguard patients against adverse effects of labour action, has also been a factor in the hardening of relations with labour.
Officials yesterday kept mum on the implications of the massive work stoppages, exposed in a written reply by acting health MEC Faith Mazibuko, in response to a question by Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow health MEC Jack Bloom in the Gauteng legislature – but South African Medical Association (Sama) chairperson Mzukisi Grootboom appealed to unions to “put the interests of people first when action is planned”.
According to Mazibuko’s reply, 268 workers downed tools at 33 health facilities last September, with the only action taken against them being leave without pay.
Work stoppages jumped dramatically this year, with incidents involving a total of 3 371 workers – Leratong hospital in the west of Johannesburg, having been the hardest hit by 1 600 workers who downed tools in May.
Grootboom also asked for the conclusion of the long-awaited minimum service agreement to be expedited.
“Not only are we concerned about the frequency but by the large number of industrial action that we have seen playing out in many of Gauteng hospitals.
“We are not against industrial action by healthcare workers, but such action should not adversely affect communities.”
During many strike actions, Sama say they witnessed health workers, including doctors and nurses, “being prevented from accessing facilities”.
Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg saw work stoppages by 120 workers in March, 209 in April and 300 in May; 600 downed tools at Sterkfontein hospital in May, 500 at Thelle Mogoerane and 42 at Kopanong in March.
Bloom put the blame on Premier David Makhura for having “ignored this crisis for far too long”.
“It is high time that he intervenes before the public health sector in this province is beyond repair.”