Join our protest, doctors urge

2009-06-22 13:27

Durban - Public sector doctors in Durban on Monday pleaded for the public to join their "indefinite" protest action.

"This is not about us only, it's also about the people of South Africa who depend on the public health sector to save them," said Lebogang Phahladria, president of the SA Registrars Association (Sara), an affiliate of the SA Medical Association.

"Please join us in the struggle because this goes beyond doctors. There can never be a nation if there is no health," he said.

Phahladria said public sector doctors in Durban were "very angry" on Monday when they found out that the government did not know how many doctors it had employed. This may cause further delays in implementing the occupation specific dispensation (OSD), a revised salary structure intended to improve the salaries of public sector workers.

"They have a director general, they have nine provincial department heads and they don't know how many doctors they have?

"We are just tired of them and we want this problem solved today."

Protest action may continue

Sara vowed that if their demands were not met by the close of business on Monday, protest action would continue in Durban at the same time throughout this week.

Hundreds of public sector doctors demanding better wages picketed outside Durban's King Edward VIII hospital on Monday.

The group, carrying placards and singing, said they wanted their concerns acknowledged and attended to.

Protester Jeffrey Hadebe, who is a doctor, said: "We also want support from the public in our battle, because it's their lives we save every day."

Phahladria said most public hospitals in the Durban metro area would be closed.

Junior Doctors' Association president Bandile Hadebe was expected to make his way to the province on Tuesday to address the doctors.

MEC appeals to doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo appealed to protesting health workers to return to work.

He also asked general practitioners to help hospitals affected by the protest.

Spokesperson Chris Maxon said the major KwaZulu-Natal hospitals affected by the "unprotected" strike were RK Khan, Addington, Osindisweni, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial, Wentworth, King George, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, King Edward, Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central, Stanger and Grey's.

"At least 60% of healthcare workers who were called to strike have reported for duty in these districts," he said.

Dhlomo said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had asked MECs to appeal to protesting workers to return to work and serve the poor.

He also appealed that the current negotiations, which would resume on Wednesday, be allowed to conclude.

"We are on record committing ourselves to an amicable resolution of these negotiations," said Dhlomo.

Army asked to assist

"We have already asked the South African Defence Force to assist and we are asking general practitioners to assist in the affected hospitals."

Dhlomo said he was currently working at one of the affected hospitals during Monday's strike.

Durban metro police spokesperson Superintendent Joyce Khuzwayo said there had been no application for a legal strike, but that they were informed of a picket outside the hospital.

"So far, it has been very peaceful with no violence being reported. Our patrols will continue to monitor them."

Hundreds of doctors had gathered outside the hospital by 10:30. The picket was expected to end at midday.

Public sector doctors had been at odds with the government over its failure to implement the OSD.

The 2007 agreement between the government and public sector workers outlined detailed deadlines for the implementation of the pay scheme.

The OSD for all categories of nurses was meant to take effect from July 1, 2007 and phased in over three years.

The deadline for implementing the OSD for medical officers, medical specialists, dentists, pharmacists and emergency workers was July 1, 2008.

The agreement also stated that the negotiation processes had to be finalised two months before the stipulated implementation date, which failed to happen in most sectors.