26/2014. Masakane Laundry employees are locked out over lobs for sale dispute. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - A lockout of staff at a state laundry in Pretoria has left hospitals high and dry and out of stock, and management has been accused of violating labour laws by failing to follow procedure in a dispute.

Staff at Rosslyn-based Masakhane Provincial Laundry were locked out two weeks ago when a dispute over the contravention of recruitment procedures came to a head nearly three weeks ago. Staff had refused to take their places in the laundry over the return of seven staff members suspended over corruption allegations.

The seven were suspended in the middle of last year after staff went on a go-slow in protest against the failure by management to address the issues of money for jobs, and the employing of family members and friends at the laundry.

“Investigations were instituted, but when they came back to work at the beginning of last month, we were shocked as none of us had been called to testify, and none of the evidence we had was requested,” Freddy Ramalata said on Tuesday.

Ramalata and his colleagues had been investigating the corrupt acts since 2011, and had gathered enough evidence at the beginning of last year to present to management, who they say took no action.

They went on a go-slow, which caused linen shortages and disarray at a third of Gauteng public hospitals. The laundry supplies clean linen, including patient pyjamas, gowns, theatre wear, towels, sheets and pillowcases to all Pretoria public health facilities and some in Joburg.

The supplies shortages were intermittent through last year and into the early part of this year, with doctors and other medical staff complaining of serious inconveniences, and having to delay and postpone procedures for lack of clean products.

“We waited to be called into hearings during the investigation, and were shocked when management informed us they (the suspended officials) were returning to work last month, saying no substantial case had been found against them,” another staffer standing outside the gate said.

Workers went on a go-slow and demanded a copy of the investigation report. When that was not forthcoming, they stayed away from work on Friday, August 8, but were convinced to return to work the next Monday after the intervention of Public Servants Association, which started discussions with management.

But when they arrived at work around 7am on the day agreed on, they were refused entry and only a few whose names were on one of the manager’s lists were allowed in.

“We don’t know why they locked us out but we come to work on time, hoping they will let us in,” Ramalata said.

They were not paid their salaries this month, which has put a strain on the workers.

In its response, the Department of Health said: “No sufficient evidence could be found against accused staff.”

Spokesman Prince Hamnca said the workers were on an illegal strike and had been locked out after defying orders to return to their workstations.

“Workers can’t be locked out without supporting documentation, meetings and negotiations,” labour lawyer Mandisi Sidzumo said. “The department has breached labour codes and could face litigation. Denying them access to work and then withholding salaries is not the way to go,” she added.

Pretoria News