Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GCIS
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GCIS

Workers in the public health-care sector will continue picketing on Monday leading up to a full-blown strike over management’s decision to freeze salaries and to draw attention to the risks its members face from Covid-19.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), SA’s third-largest public-sector union, which represents 108,000 health-care workers, held lunch-hour pickets at the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) across the country on Friday.

The union said it planned to use the pickets as a launch pad for a national programme which seeks to highlight the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff shortages at public health-care facilities and increasing number of front-line workers infected with the coronavirus.

The virus has infected more than 27,360 front-line workers, and 240 have died from it.

Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba told Business Day on Sunday that the pickets will continue on Monday and on Tuesday their members will embark on an “indefinite strike” at the NHLS.

The NHLS has asked the essential services committee, a legal entity established in terms of the Labour Relations Act, to confirm that the services rendered by its employees are essential. An initial hearing has been set down for August 26.

NHLS spokesperson Mzi Gcukumana said they will give an update on the matter on Monday.

The NHLS, which provides all the diagnostic tests for patients who use the public health sector, including those for Covid-19, HIV and tuberculosis, has said it would not hesitate to approach the labour court on an urgent basis to “protect its employees and the SA public”.

There will be a national stayaway this Friday in all the sectors Nehawu organises in.

The union represents nurses, doctors, pharmacists, cleaners, dispensary and reception clerks; community health workers, ambulance and morgue workers; community care workers and laboratory technicians, among others.

“On September 3, the union will march to parliament, the Union Buildings and at all the premiers' offices to submit memorandums,” said Xaba.

If there was no favourable response to their grievances, “we will embark on a full-blown national strike on September 10”.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize met the leadership of Nehawu, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA, Public Servants Association of SA, SA Medical Association Trade Union, the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA, and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers on Saturday to address their concerns.

Mkhize directed that the availability of PPE needed to be jointly monitored by stakeholders on a daily basis.

The department of health said unions will now have “direct access to information contained in the department’s web-based dashboard and digital stock visibility system”.

“This will be very important as issues of monitoring PPE should best be managed on the ground. Similarly, the issues of transportation and distribution of PPE should be managed ... at facility and district level,” the department said.

Mkhize said they wanted to inculcate a new culture of openness: “There may have been misunderstandings and tensions [in the past] but ultimately we all want to protect our workers and therefore we all need to find mechanisms to do so.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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