Govt takes hard line on disruptive strikers

2010-08-20 22:27

Johannesburg - Striking public servants shut down schools, blocked roads and barricaded hospitals for a third day on Friday, prompting Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to accuse them of the "murder" of emergency patients.

Among those turned away from hospital was a 21-year-old man, who needed emergency surgery to re-attach his hand after it had been chopped off.

Neither Charlotte Maxeke and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals in Gauteng could take him in.

Motsoaledi went to Baragwanath, along with 60 qualified doctors and nurses, to volunteer his services after saying strikers had lost their humanity.

"If somebody gets into an operating theatre where somebody is being operated on and wants to disrupt somebody who is vulnerable, who is on life-support - in exercising certain democratic rights (to strike) you get in there and disrupt - that's murder," Motsoaledi said.

"I'm not surprised but shocked, extremely shocked at the willingness to murder because you can't have that kind of country."

"It shocks me that there is any living, normal South African who thinks like that."

He said many hospitals around the country had reached crisis point and he saw no reason why he could not help patients.

"Being a doctor is like driving... after 16 years out of the profession, my hands are still on."

The strong words from Motsoaledi and other ministers reinforced the state's message that it would not back down in its latest stand-off with labour.

On Thursday, the government said it would implement its final wage offer of a 7% increase and a R700 housing allowance, regardless of unions' response, and President Jacob Zuma reminded public servants that the state could fire them if they kept up the strike.

It also vowed not to tolerate violence.

More clashes

Friday saw more clashes between strikers and police, drawing more angry condemnation from others ministers.

Rubber bullets were fired and water sprayed at protesters in several areas countrywide, including the M1 highway in Johannesburg where workers blocked the road.

Public Administration Minister Richard Baloyi to accuse strikers of "trampling on people's rights".

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said violence and intimidation could "easily destroy the credibility of trade union movements".

"These acts of intimidation are a clear indication of a failure by trade unions to convince and persuade their members," said Mdladlana, adding that "social dialogue" was the best way to resolve differences.

Government said soldiers would stand guard at the hospitals to protect medical staff and patients trying to cross picket lines.

In addition, SA Military Health Services medics were providing emergency care at six strike-hit hospitals in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal on Friday, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said.

At the request of the department of health, SA Military Health Service members were at Natalspruit, Chris Hani Baragwanath and Helen Joseph hospitals in Gauteng.

In KwaZulu-Natal they were at the King Edward and Mahatma Ghandi Memorial hospitals.

In the Western Cape, the strike appeared to affect Tygerberg, GF Jooste and Groote Schuur hospitals to a far lesser extent than those in Gauteng, despite a claim that by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) that it had "totally shut down" the facilities.

The provincial government also said the "vast majority" of schools in the Western Cape were functioning on Friday.

Teachers unions had boasted Friday boasted that schools around the country had shut down "completely".

The Gauteng provincial government was granted an interdict by the labour court on Friday to stop striking public servants from intimidating health workers.

"The court ordered government employees who are on strike to immediately refrain from intimidating, harassing or interfering with other employees and management from continuing with their work," the office of premier Nomvula Mokonyane said in a statement.