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Durban - Durban’s McCord Hospital staff have their jobs for another week, following a court ruling granted on Tuesday, while the ANC has
weighed in, accusing the hospital board of shutting the facility while negotiations with the Health Department to take over the facility were still under way.
Labour Court Judge Edwin Mohlalehi ruled that the hospital board had to provide reasons on October 9 to show why a final interdict should not be granted to prevent it from dismissing staff.
It also has to show why it should not be ordered to consult the unions - Nehawu, Hospersa, the South African Medical Union and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa.
It is understood that the hospital cannot dismiss workers until the matter is heard next month.
While the court hearing was unfolding, KZN Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said fresh talks would start on Wednesday after a call from the provincial Finance MEC, Ina Cronje, to re-assess the R47 million deal.
Board chairman Paulus Zulu welcomed the new talks, but said the shutdown, which began on Friday, would continue unless the government adequately addressed a public liability clause which held the board members personally and legally responsible for any medical claims for the next 21 years.
ANC spokesman Senzo Mkhize said the party was concerned that the hospital board made the decision to close “unilaterally”.
“We view this as irresponsible and we call on the board to commit itself to these crucial negotiations to ensure that an agreement is signed to avoid the closing of Durban’s 103-year-old hospital,” said Mkhize.
The unions, though, went to court after staff accused board members of wanting to profit from the sale rather than allow the takeover.
On Tuesday, advocate William Mokhari SC, acting for Nehawu, said the board was acting contrary to the provisions of the Labour Relations Act.
“They want to hold the department to ransom and say they will give it R120m or close the hospital. That is negotiating in bad faith. What is the R120m for? Is this nothing but selfish interest of a few?”
He also said the Health Department wanted to stave off retrenchments and was not opposed to the application.
However, advocate Anand Choudree, acting for the Health Department and the Treasury, said the department should not have been brought into the court case.
“We did not file papers because we were served with the application very late, but even if we had filed papers it would have been solely on the basis of whether any orders can be taken against us. The union is putting the cart before the horse because there is no agreement between the hospital and the department.”
Mokhari said he was “astounded” by the Health Department’s stance on the matter.
“They are now bringing up technical issues which completely contradict the government’s version in the media that they wanted to save the hospital.”
Advocate Maurice Pillemer SC, acting for the hospital board, said it had acted responsibly by closing the hospital.
“There is insufficient funding to operate and, furthermore, there is no licence, which creates problems of liability. It cannot simply continue to keep its doors open.”
He added that the order sought by Nehawu was misguided and inappropriate.
Advocate Peter Blomkamp, for Hospersa, said the union had not been told about the consultations despite its having the second-largest representation at the hospital.