Effect of health sector strike comes second to frontline workers’ lives – Nehawu

Nehawu members. Picture: Jacques Nelles

‘This action must be understood as an instrument and campaign of protecting frontline workers from dying,’ said Zola Saphetha, Nehawu general secretary.

The dire consequences of the looming public health sector strike are secondary to matters of life and death faced by frontline workers saving lives at the expense of their own, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said on Thursday.

The union, which has about 235,000 members in the public health sector, has charged that other than the lack of adequate PPE for their members on the frontline, issues of salary and other allowances dated back to last year.

“This action must be understood as an instrument and campaign of protecting frontline workers from dying. We cannot die silently, we have to do something. Prepared for any consequence. But no amount of consequence [could be worse] than what we are going through now,” said Zola Saphetha, Nehawu general secretary.

He said the potential consequences of the strike were unfortunate, but this should be blamed on government’s inability to do the right thing, and that the decision on the strike was taken by the union’s executive council in July to create space for engagement.

“You might go to hospital and find no workers there because they are dying and some are in isolation. We are elected to represent these members and prepared to lay down our lives… everything will be in the framework of the law,” Saphetha said.

He said the build-up to the full-blown strike will kick-off on Monday, with their members all descending on provincial health department offices to apply for a day’s leave, which would then be followed by lunch-hour pickets and workers locking themselves up at home for a day.

The union will also hold a national day of action in the form of demonstrations across provinces where memorandums will be handed to government, with the full-blown strike expected to start on September 10.

Saphetha said they were using the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) as a launch pad for the industrial action.

If not averted, the strike would have a devastating impact as all critical tests related to disease in general, including Covid-19, HIV, TB and cancer across the country’s 252 national health laboratories, would be compromised.

Department of health spokesperson Popo Maja has stopped just short of saying the looming strike was an irresponsible action during a national crisis.

He said a strike in the health sector should be avoided and “at the end of the day, when history is written on how South Africa managed to conquer the Covid-19 pandemic, our contribution as individuals and as a collective must be a positive reflection”.

“This is the appeal the [department] of health is making,” Maja pleaded.

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