Despite a nearly R11bn funding gap, the Gauteng health department says it will reverse the remuneration scales of forensic pathology assistants to the levels they were before 2010, in order to have mortuary workers back on the job.
About 180 forensic assistants went on strike in June, claiming they were underpaid and doing work they were not qualified for. The Department of Justice and the South African Police Services relies on their pathology services for certain cases.
Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa conceded in May that the R40.2bn budget was inadequate to cover requirements, largely due to substantial debt burden consisting of money owed to suppliers and legal cases against it.
But after threatening striking workers with letters warning them that a failure to return to work would result in their dismissal, Ramakgopa announced the department has conceded to workers’ demands for a better wage deal.
Ramakgopa said her department would at the end of July reverse the remuneration scales back to those prior to 2010, which are the pre-occupation specific dispensation salary scales.
In 2007, Grade 2 forensic pathology officers’s earned R85,362.00 per annum, while a senior forensic pathology officers with three years of experience could earn about R106,335.00.
In 2017 a grade 1 pathology officer earned about R138,138 annually plus benefits while a grade two scale was in the region of R174,591 per annum. It would now go up "with retrospective calculated amendments" Ramakgopa said.
Before 2010, forensic assistants had four levels of upward job mobility, which were inexplicably removed in 2010.
The head of the department of forensic medicine and pathology at Wits University, Prof Jeanine Vellema, said the removal of the top two levels of progression which were removed made it difficult for the officers to advance to higher levels of employment and pay.
And even scarier was that over time the positions of senior forensic pathology officers who left were not filled, but closed, Vellema said.
DA shadow health minister Jack Bloom has criticised Ramokgopa for her handling of the strike, calling it "abysmal".
He noted how all the other provinces managed to avoid a strike, but Ramakgopa had failed to enforce a court order against the strikers that was obtained by the Gauteng health department in December 2016 when a developing mortuary strike was quashed.
"This court order needs to be applied now as mortuaries are an essential service" Bloom said.
The facilities that were mainly affected included Germiston, Hillbrow, Roodepoort and Diepkloof Forensic Pathology Service centres. As well as smaller facilities such as those in Sebokeng, Carletonville, Ga-Rankuwa, Bronkhorstspruit and Heidelberg.