SAMA and UNDF battle for doctors’ trust

Dr Bandile Hadebe

National Chairperson of Junior Doctors Association (JUDASA) which is affiliated to the South African Medical Associaiton.

Used to work at McCord Hospital in Durban as a junior doctor , but now full-time at SAMA.

Why did you become a doctor?

I wanted to provide adequate care to patients and enjoyed the fulfillment of seeing a patient smile with relief at seeing me.

What are your demands?

Better pay for doctors (OSD).

Government has the capacity of providing   adequate administrative services for the health care sector, but it just chooses not to – they managed to organise the recent Indian cricket tournament at short notice so they can do it for doctors and the health care sector if they wanted to.

Adequate leadership and management of the health care sector.

Government needs to take the health care sector seriously because they are clearly not doing so.

In your opinion, how did we reach a situation where doctors are striking? Could it have been avoided?

Doctors have been providing alternatives for the inadequacy of government for too long. Poor infrastructure and long hours at work have been in existence for too long.

Government has never taken doctors seriously and have taken advantage of the doctors’€™ oath forgetting that they also have an oath to provide adequate services to people.

Poor leadership within the Health Department from the director-general all the way down.

What do the doctors you represent take home in terms of salaries (on average)?

Interns and junior doctors: Between R8 000 and R9 000.

Community service doctors: R15 000

Other than more money, what are the other important issues you would like addressed?

There are inadequate resources in the hospitals.

Gross failure in the leadership of the health ministry.

Underspending in the health ministry – a lot of money is returned by the ministry while there are hospitals that don’€™t have basic necessities.

Government needs to take nurses and doctors seriously and not take advantage of our commitment to patients.

Why the split between SAMA and the UNDF?

There was a lack of understanding within the organisation and members said they wanted to strike while the bargaining council negotiations had not started. Their strike action rendered no results. Letters of dismissal were issued to them and it was SAMA that stepped forward to negotiate on their behalf for them to get warning letters instead.                                      SAMA and Cosatu are the only unions that have understood the plight of doctors.

How many doctors do you represent?

I can’€™t put a figure to it, there are too many doctors.

Do you think the divisions between SAMA and the UNDF could hurt your aim?

The more voices the better, there is no reason why there shouldn’€™t more than one union for doctors.

Dr Percy Mahlathi the Deputy Director General of Human Resources at the Department of Health says they are only willing to engage with ‘€œlegitimate’€ structures. Do you think SAMA is a  ‘€œlegitimate’€ structure to represent young doctors?

Government negotiates with known entities and not individuals that go around clamouring in the streets and the media. SAMA is a known entity that is dedicated to junior doctors and doctors in general.

Are doctors still seriously considering striking despite the threat of being fired?

It is incorrect and unconstitutional for government to summon doctors not to strike.

Patients are the primary responsibility of government not doctors. Government builds hospitals and they should make sure hospitals are catered for. Doctors go there like patients. If patients are not receiving proper care in hospitals it’€™s the government’€™s fault and not the doctors’€™. We are marching on Friday from 12 am to 5 pm handing over a memorandum voicing a multitude of our concerns.

Since the UNDF feels that SAMA is untrustworthy, do you think there is still a possibility of the two groups sitting around a table and speaking with one voice?

We have approached them a number of times without success. The untrue statements they make about SAMA make it hard for us pursue any further talks with them They want to discredit SAMA but are using SAMA’€™s model when wooing their members.  

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