South African court orders healthcare workers to end strike

Government officials say the strike adversely affected clinical operations across the country’s big hospitals.

Healthcare workers assist patients being treated at a makeshift hospital in Johannesburg.
Healthcare workers assist patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by charity organisation The Gift of the Givers amid a COVID-19 outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 10, 2021 [File: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters]

The South African Labour Appeal Court has ordered striking state healthcare workers to end a weeklong walkout that has affected services in some of the country’s big hospitals, the health department said.

The court interdict on Monday will help stabilise services at the affected hospitals, the department said. Striking workers have been ordered to go back to work by Tuesday morning, it added.

“The strike has disrupted provision of essential healthcare services in the country, leading to untold suffering and frustrations amongst the public who desperately needed healthcare and life-saving treatment,” said South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

Since last week, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) members have been on strike after wage talks with the government failed.

The health department said on Sunday that clinical operations were hamstrung by a low nursing and administrative support staff turnout.

The labour relations act prohibits essential services workers from engaging in strike action which is detrimental to healthcare services with a risk of loss of life, he told a press briefing.

Union leaders could not be immediately reached for comment.

The union has been demanding a 10 percent wage hike, but the government offered 4.7 percent, according to local media SABC News.

The union said in a statement on Sunday that “no amount of litigation or intimidation by the government will deter us from this noble worthy cause that we have embarked on”.

NEHAWU leader Zola Saphetha told a news conference that the government’s demand to end the dispute “is another demonstration of how far government is prepared to undermine and collapse collective bargaining and the dispute resolution mechanism by imposing their will on workers”.

The South African military said it had deployed medics to help in the affected hospitals at the request of the health department.

Source: Reuters