W Cape doctors continue strike

2009-07-01 14:59

Cape Town - Western Cape doctors are continuing their strike on Wednesday despite a visit by Deputy Health Minister Dr Molefi Sefularo to Groote Schuur Hospital, and a few changes to the salary package offered to them.

Sefularo requested a meeting with health professionals from Groote Schuur, Tygerberg and other hospitals as strike action in the province entered its fourth day, following nationwide protests.

The action has been against delays in implementing the OSD - an adjustment of salary grades for public servants in order to reward their experience and skill level.

Marginal increases

While an offer was made by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday June 24, much of the pay hikes went to interns. Mid-level professionals were left with marginal increases that some argue don't even keep up with inflation. 

Doctors rejected the offer and have embarked on strike action, supported by the SA Medical Association (Sama), which led to more than 200 doctors being served with dismissal letters by the KwaZulu-Natal health department on Monday. The dismissal letters followed after they ignored an interdict to go back to work. Western Cape doctors have insisted their colleagues be reinstated as part of their demands.

Other  concerns were voiced to Sefularo, who promised to take these back to the bargaining chamber and assured the meeting of government’s support.

"Among many things we have recognised the divide between you and the department. This is not the last visit. We will be embarking on provincial visits where we will listen to your ideas on how things can be improved," he said.

The major changes in the offer were a recognition of experience and additional qualifications and responsibilities in pay packages and an undertaking to raise salaries with immediate effect. To achieve these ends, doctors had to settle for 5% backpay from the previous year and not 8% as hoped for, said Mark Sonderup, Sama Western Cape chairperson.

Interns prioritised

But doctors were still unhappy with the sidelining of medical officers and specialists, who they say form the backbone of the system.

Sefularo acknowledged that interns and those doing community service were prioritised and that the government was committed to addressing other wage disputes and working conditions in subsequent wage negotiations.

Interns received an increase of up to 53% in some cases, bringing all to a total package of R314 023.

Doctors and pharmacists in the province have until Friday to decide whether to accept government's offer and gradually negotiate for more or take the unconstitutional route of a total walkout. Doctors acknowledged the strike had so far been “half-hearted” as most doctors were working in secret to keep patients alive.

Western Cape doctors represented at the meeting voted to continue with strikes until Friday, till the national body of Sama could make a decision.