Despite a court interdict preventing the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) from striking today, the union went ahead with its planned protest action.

In the Free State, over 3000 health workers gathered outside several hospitals in Mangaung, Sasolburg, Qwaqwa and Welkom, under police watch.

Tshepiso Maimane, a healthcare worker at Bongani Hospital in Welkom says he and others were barred entry by strikers. “They called me a sell out and threatened to deal with me. I called the cops and they left. I believe we both have rights and I cannot exercise my rights while undermining others. Some
workers undermined our rights when we chose to work instead of joining the strike”, he said.

The Free State Department of Health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi confirmed to Health-e News there were cases of intimidation of staff in various facilities around the province. He also said the presence of police prevented patients being turned away.

“The department contacted law enforcement agencies to ensure that the constitutional right to health is not infringed by those that are participating in the strike. It is unclear so far as to who is actively participating in the strike as services have not ground to a complete halt.”

Nehawu spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi said the strike would not disrupt services, and denied claims that some striking workers had prevented other workers entry to health facilities.

At Pelonomi Hospital, protesters burned tyres inside the parking lot. Four members were arrested. Free State’s MEC for Health Montseng Tsiu, a former
nurse and trade union leader called the tyre burning and intimidation unfortunate. “We understand reasons for the strike but it is not right that tyres were burnt inside the hospital yard. It is never right to abuse or assault workers whose unions aren’t part of the demonstration,” she said.

Tsiu said mostly administrators had joined the strike, and ‘services were being rendered as usual, with no problems anticipated.’

Wage battle reason for strike

Both Nehawu and other public sector unions have been locked in a long-standing battle with government over wages. As News24 reported, in 2020, government reneged on the final year of a three-year agreement. In 2021/22, the parties reached an agreement that included a R1 000 non-pensionable allowance after tax, but in the following year, talks deadlocked again, after government unilaterally implemented a 3% increase plus the gratuity, arguing that this amounted to a 7% increase – which unions disputed.

Nkolonzi says the morale of workers has been low and government has been not willing to remunerate employees according to inflation.

“Over the last three years, workers have been robbed of salary increments. Government is offering 0.5% to workers. We have been saying, can government agree to the demand of a 10% salary increment with R2 500 housing allowance?” –Health-e News

 

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