Health Department’s emergency workers considering full-blown strike

2014-05-16 00:00

UMGUNGUNDLOVU District emergency workers locked in a dispute over payment of overtime with the Department of Health have upped the ante — they are now threatening to go on a proper strike.

The workers have been on so-called sick and family responsibility leave since Monday, and since then very few or no ambulance services have been operating in the district.

Mazwi Ngubane of the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu ), representing the workers, said this was a last resort and he hoped to resolve the differences before attending a meeting at Alexandra Park yesterday.

“The mandate from the staff is that we should reach out to management and get a signed agreement on when they will pay the money that is due. Depending on how they respond we will then decide how to continue.”

As their attitudes continue to harden, the workers said they were also keeping the possibility of a full-blown strike as part of their arsenal.

Asked how they could go on strike as they are considered an essential service, Ngubane replied, “The doctors can strike, so can we. There is a minimum service agreement that prevents us from striking but it was never signed so there is nothing preventing us from going on strike.

“We respect the lives of the public, and that is the only reason that we have not gone on strike, but the leadership of the department has left us with no choice; they are not willing to engage with us.”

Ngubane said it was not easy for the workers to all be away from work because they knew that their absence affected people who cannot afford other services.

He said since the paramedics booked off, there had been no contact with management. “They are phoning individual members and threatening each one to come back to work.”

Ngubane said officials were not too troubled by the state of affairs because in many cases the staff has never been at its full complement. He said there were other problems, like a shortage of vehicles, so staff would just sit at work and do nothing.

He said during the meeting with the staff, it had been resolved that the union should reach out to management and attempt to find a solution.

Sam Mkhwanazi of the department said only that the department was coping with the work as they had instituted their contingency plans.

The department declined once again to reveal what exactly the contingency plans are.

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