‘No work, no pay’—Limpopo officials warn healthcare workers on planned strike

MEC of Health in Limpopo Province, Dr Phophi Ramathuba held a meeting with the Mankweng Hospital Executive Management to discuss the hospital's COVID 19 resurgence readiness.
Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

The Limpopo Department of Health says a strike planned for 8 March is unprotected. Workers who participate could face disciplinary action. But health workers from seven unions refuse to budge on a dispute over working hours.

The Limpopo Department of Health says it will take disciplinary measures against health care workers who participate in a strike next week. Several trade unions in the province have organised a strike for Monday, 8 March.

“The department has noted public statements which seek to suggest that the bargaining council has granted a certificate to strike. It is not true,” Dr Thokozani Mhlongo, Head of the Limpopo Department of Health, told media.

“The department reiterates that the intended strike by the unions will be unprotected and the employer will be entitled to implement that rule of ‘no work, no pay’ and take disciplinary measures against those who participate in such action.”

Seven unions plans to participate in the strike. They include the largest unions, namely the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu); the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa); Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa); and the Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA).

Other signatories to the strike notice are the National Public Service Workers Union (NPSWU), South African Emergency Personnel’s Union (SAEPU) and the South African Medical Practitioners Trade Union (SAMATU). The strike action will occur in all the province’s public hospitals and clinics, according to the notice.

The proposed strike also follows strike action led by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) in Limpopo last week.

Labour dispute

The unions are protesting what they say is “the department’s refusal to withdraw the unilateral changes to conditions of service.” In circular’s published at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, workers will now have 12-hour shifts three times a week and a 7-hour shift once a week. No roster should be designated to night or day shift, according to the newly published conditions.

In February, the department issued a circular meant to standardise shift rosters and align them to the legislated 40 hours per week, said Mhlongo. The circular also tried to address roster inconsistencies. Labour unions, however, were unhappy with the changes.

“Once again, the department received correspondence expressing dissatisfaction from labour unions,” said Mhlongo. The head of department added that officials were willing to engage with workers.

“The issues which were clarified on the circular include overtime, commuted overtime, shift work,” she said. “The emphasis is on clarification, following identification of inconsistencies in the implementation of these laws across the department.”

But according to the medical practitioners’ union SAMATU, the Limpopo health department is unlawfully implementing the circular. Mhlongo’s department is also refusing to consult with trade unions in compliance with the Labour Relations Act, said the union.

“SAMATU hereby places on record that the provincial department of health is still steadfast in intending to implement circular 4 of 2021, even after we have sent communication to that effect, explaining the reasons why the circular should be suspended, and process of consultation should be embarked upon,” SAMATU wrote in a media statement.

Unable to reach a compromise

Unions met with the provincial department in a virtual forum on 19 February, said SAMATU. All unions echoed the same sentiment: the employer must properly engage with employees before implementing the new conditions.

According to Mhlongo, however, unions refused to proceed with the labour forum unless the department withdrew the circular.

Mhlongo also said the department must reduce personnel spending due to shortages in certain positions.

“It is a difficult situation—we must appoint staff in the interest of the patient, but we must also reduce personnel spending,” said Mhlongo. “This department still has huge shortages of ward attendants, cleaners, food service aids, porters, mortuary attendants. We also have shortages of doctors and specialists etc. the questions are, if we are spending 70% of the budget on personnel, where does the money go to?”

Mhlongo cited overtime costs, explaining that this did not reduce despite increased hiring. This, she said, was due to inefficient rostering and poor implementation of labour conditions.

“We had to dig deep. We analysed our budget and found that there were huge inefficiencies in personnel spending,” she added. “Our studies revealed patterns of poor use of human resources as well as abuse of overtime and sick leave that we had to confront.” —Health-e News

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.