An anonymous group of public health doctor, dentist and emergency services ‘€œrepresentatives’€ has called for a national health strike from Monday, 22 June.

The wildcat strike call has been sent to hundreds of public sector professionals, who are discussing the call at the work places.

This follows the government’€™s failure to table an improved proposal for an improved ‘€œoccupation-specific dispensation’€ (OSD) on Wednesday, 17 June, as promised.

‘€œA call is hereby made for complete withdrawal of all services rendered by [doctors, dentists, pharmacists and emergency services staff], with the provision of emergency services only by those who do not accept the call for complete withdrawal of all services,’€ said the statement from the group purporting to represent the public health sector professionals.

‘€œThe employees remain hopeful that an acceptable settlement is reached as soon as possible, but firmly believe that this course of action is the only option that will ensure that such a settlement is fair and equitable,’€ it added.

For the past two months, health professionals have held strikes, pickets, marches and protests over the health department’€™s failure to negotiate an acceptable increase in the form of an OSD. This was promised to be implemented in July 2008 yet negotiations only got off the ground this year.

The strike has been called ‘€œin light of the negligible OSD offer initially tabled by government, and the unacceptable delays in reaching a satisfactory negotiated OSD settlement and repeated postponement of a revised offer, despite patience and tolerance demonstrated by the employees’€.

While the SA Medical Association (SAMA) and the United Doctors Forum (UDF) have distanced themselves from the strike call, it has struck a chord with many health professionals — despite the fact that some 300 doctors are on final warnings after embarking on earlier wildcat strike action.

At the heart of the dispute is the fact that doctors and other health professionals are being underpaid in the public sector. A SAMA-commissioned study found that doctors were underpaid by between 50 to 75% when compared to other professionals within the public sector with similar levels of training, such as magistrates and judges. When compared with the private sector and countries abroad, doctors were underpaid by 200%, according to the research.

After the public sector workers’€™ strike in 2007, negotiations started between the government and nurses for better salaries. Negotiations over doctors’€™ salaries were due to start in mid-2008, However, as the nurses’€™ negotiations took longer than expected, doctors negotiations only started this year ‘€“ but with the understanding that any agreement would be back-paid to July 2008.

The Health department has since proposed increases ranging from 0.28% to approximately 5%. According to the doctors’€™ representatives, the department has also withdrawn into commitment to back-pay the agreement and instead pay a once-off lump sum ranging between two and seven percent of the basic salary.

Provincial marches were held in four major cities at the end of May, and government as given a memorandum demanding a resolution to the OSD within two weeks, expiring on 12 June.

The anonymous strike call is the first indication of what doctors are  planning since the expiry date of their memorandum passed.