Govt 'has bent over backwards'

2009-07-02 12:30

Cape Town - Government has called on public service doctors to end their strike and return to work immediately, saying their dispute is doing "considerable harm" to the sector.

Briefing the media in Cape Town on Thursday, following Cabinet's fortnightly meeting the day before, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the strike was depriving ordinary South Africans of access to health care.

"Government calls on all the medical professionals who are still on strike to return to work, and resume their duties with immediate effect," he said.

This should be done with the knowledge "government has listened, understands their plight and that conditions in our public health facilities will improve in time".

Maseko said there was a responsibility to ensure citizens were not deprived of their rights to quality health care.

He said Cabinet welcomed the progress made in negotiations with unions regarding the occupation specific dispensation (OSD).

Labour dispute doing considerable harm

The government's final offer had been tabled and negotiated in the Public Service Bargaining Chamber.

"The [Cabinet] meeting expressed the hope that the unions will do all they can to ensure that details of the offer are properly explained to their members so that an agreement could be signed sooner rather than later, as the offer represents an improvement in the salaries of the medical staff.

"The labour dispute is doing considerable harm, adding more strain to an already strained public health sector, and in the process depriving ordinary South Africans access to desperately needed health care," Maseko said.

Maseko warned if wildcat strikes were to continue, government would "have to resort to drastic action".

He said the state's latest offer was valid for 21 days, and doctors who had not returned to work by the time it expired, would have to reapply for their jobs.

"The posts will be readvertised and other doctors will be invited to apply, so that is how the situation is going to unfold."
The remarks followed a call from the Congress of SA Trade Unions that striking doctors who had been sacked, be reinstated. "We appeal to the minister of health and provincial MECs for health to reverse the dismissals, so that we have only one issue on the table  - the draft agreement on OSD salary increases, and not the dismissals," the union federation said in a statement.

Maseko said government would implement the wage agreement the day the deadline expired.

Government has bent over backwards

He acknowledged the offer does "not meet all the needs" expressed by doctors, but said it was "a significant improvement" on an earlier offer to up wages by seven percent.

"Government has indeed bent over backwards to try and accommodate a lot of the demands of the doctors.

"We do not think doctors are being greedy. The fact of the matter is that these are professionals who have gone through many years of training and that is why we acknowledged right at the beginning that they have not been paid good salaries.

"The offer we have tabled is a start to ensure that they are properly compensated and rewarded for the good work that they are doing in the service of our population.

"We don't think it is unreasonable for them to demand good salaries... (but) the fact that they engage in strikes which in terms of South African law are illegal is indeed a problem."

Maseko said it was a historical problem in South Africa dating back "decades" that civil servants are poorly paid but warned that all sectors would have to be reasonable in their salary demands given the economic recession.

He said government knew it was heading for a "strike season" as workers demanded decent pay, notably teachers, but hoped they would think twice about downing tools because it would hurt students.

"Our plea is for teachers to give negotiators a chance without resorting to strike action."