Johannesburg - An attorney who has filed papers with the Constitutional Court against the Department of Health’s compulsory community service by junior doctors had also laid a complaint on their treatment with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Last week, a doctor from Cape Town filed papers against the minister of health and the Health Professions Council of South Africa on the placement and treatment of junior doctors.
Dr Miguel Desroches said the highest court in the land needed to decide what the human right norms and standards should be for “determining forced labour, slavery, and cruel and degrading treatment in the workforce in relation to community service”, and whether the legislation compelling health practitioners to perform community service were justifiable.
In 2012, attorney Nicolette Erasmus sent a complaint to the SAHRC on the conditions young doctors have to deal with during community service.
She based her complaint on an article she wrote in the South African Medical Journal in 2012 titled “Slaves of the state – medical internship and community service in South Africa”.
In the article, Erasmus said junior doctors work up to 200 hours of overtime a month and that no other professional group in the country was subjected “to such levels of exploitation and discrimination by the state”.
She said doctors in internships and community service effectively work 28 days out of an average 30, plus another eight at night.
“Lack of sleep strongly impairs human functioning and leads to memory loss, attention deficit, negative mood changes, over-optimistic risk-taking, road accidents, mistakes on duty and in surgery, adverse health conditions, and HIV needle-stick injuries,” the article said.
Erasmus suggested ways that this could be stopped by installing electronic time-recording systems to measure duty hours, making extra overtime voluntary and paid, and the maximum number of working hours without sleep be limited to 16.
The SAHRC turned down her complaint, advising her to lodge a complaint with the Department of Labour. Erasmus appealed against this decision, but was again turned down.
SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena said they had turned down the complaint because the SAHRC didn’t have a mandate to deal with labour disputes.