Medics defy the govt

2009-06-29 00:00

KZN doctors are unbowed by an urgent Labour Court ruling ordering them to end their week-long strike and return to work.

KZN doctors’ representative Dr Shailendra Sham said a “unanimous” decision to continue with the strike action regardless of the outcome of the court hearing was taken on Friday ahead of Saturday’s urgent interdict.

Another meeting was held late yesterday to update doctors about the Labour Court decision.

“As things stand now, the strike is still on,” reiterated South African Medical Association (Sama) intern representative Dr Lwazi Manzi from her desk at Northdale Hospital’s casualty department yesterday where, despite participating in the strike, she and her colleagues were still providing emergency care.

Manzi said a meeting of the Sama organising committee in Pietermaritzburg was scheduled for this morning at which an official mandate from doctors will be taken.

Hailing the court interdict, acting head of the KZN Health Department Dr Yoliswa Mbele said in a statement on Saturday: “We are happy that justice has prevailed in the interest of 88% of the people of KwaZulu-Natal who depend on public health services.”

But doctors seem unintimidated by the department’s latest move, despite the threat of possible job losses.

Since the government’s salary offer on Wednesday was rejected, strike action has escalated.

Sham said that doctors from Gauteng are expected to join the nationwide strike today. He said the independent analysts’ report, which earlier last week revealed the “accurate” figures behind the government’s pay increase offer, has motivated some undecided doctors to join.

On the issue of threats by the department to axe non-compliant doctors, Sham said: “The levels of anger and frustration are such that people have been prepared to put their jobs on the line.” He added it would be a “very short-sighted move” for the department to fire anyone.

Sham said Saturday’s interdict was “perfectly expected” given the fact that in South African law no strike by doctors is legal. “Unlike other countries and despite our attempts, we don’t have a clear-cut minimum service agreement for emergency service personnel,” said Sham.

“We accept that the current strike is illegal on these terms … but this is the only form of protest we have.”

In an affidavit supporting the interdict application, Mbele estimated that about 300 medics were on strike in KZN. The affidavit claimed that there had been reports that 22 military doctors brought in had been “intimidated and threatened”.

Sham could not say how many medical professionals were involved in the strike. “But all doctors have been allowed full freedom of conscience in this strike to decide the extent of their involvement. There’s been no intimidation,” he said.

While Mbele’s affidavit admits it is not possible “on current information” to say whether the strike has caused any deaths, it says it is clear that “lives are at stake” if it continues.

Manzi was adamant yesterday that no one has died at Northdale Hospital as a result of the strike and that there had been no compromise to the quality of care.

Yesterday there were four doctors and three nurses on duty in Northdale’s casualty department — the same number of medical staff on duty on any normal weekend, she said.

In Durban, Sham said the provincial department was given ample notice of the strike in order to make contingency arrangements.

Manzi said she was motivated to strike by a “sense of worth” for both herself and her colleagues. “They deserve better working conditions, a chance to be good doctors and to practise in accordance with acceptable standards, to be remunerated fully and to be treated as people with lives beyond their work.”

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