A red-faced KwaZulu-Natal health department has been forced to pay just under R1 million to a labour broker who provided it with its own nurses as scab labour during the 2010 provincial health workers’ strike.
Last week Judge Jerome Mnguni ordered provincial health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo to pay the Ambition 24hours (A24) what it was owed for the temporary workers it used during the provincial hospital strike in August and September 2010.
KwaZulu-Natal department of health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said it respected the judgment and would abide by it.
Dhlomo stopped payment after discovering that striking nurses from provincial hospitals were among the nurses and other staff provided by A24 to work at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and Prince Mshiyeni Hospitals in Durban and the Ladysmith provincial hospital.
The nurses were recruited from among striking staff at provincial hospitals in Richards Bay and other areas.
Nurses in KwaZulu-Natal were banned from moonlighting without permission in June 2006.
Dhlomo discovered what was happening when the department audited the list of temporary workers against a list of its own staff – and realised it was paying its own strikers to fill in for protesters at other hospitals.
A24 then went to court to ask that the balance of about R630 000 and interest of about R270 000 be paid, along with its costs.
In papers before the Durban High Court, A24’s lawyers argued that the company was not aware that the staff it provided were already on strike, nor was it the labour broker’s responsibility to be in the loop.
Lawyers for the department argued that A24 should have vetted its workers first and should not have provided the province with strikers.
Ruling in A24’s favour and awarding costs against the department, Judge Mnguni said the agreement between the department and its workers had nothing to do with A24.
Mnguni said the department had the responsibility – and the means – to vet the staff provided by A24 and should have done so before they commenced work.
Attempts to secure comment from A24’s lawyer, Carol Speirs, were unsuccessful at the time of writing.