Health workers threaten to close Durban hospital
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Durban - Doctors and nurses brought Prince Mshiyeni Hospital to a standstill with a lunch-hour protest on Tuesday, joining striking outsourced workers who have threatened to close the south Durban facility on Wednesday.
The doctors and nurses, who fear for their safety after a number of strike-related deaths, took to the picket lines with outsourced workers, who have been protesting at the hospital, demanding they be employed directly by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.
The protesters prevented patients and visitors from entering or leaving the uMlazi hospital, demanding Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo addressed them in person.
The move follows weeks of violent protests at public hospitals in the city, with a number of deaths and injuries linked to the stand-off between the department and outsourced workers.
Police used teargas to disperse the picketers.
Workers on Tuesday threatened to head to the International Aids conference, now on at Durban’s ICC, to get the attention of Dhlomo, who they accused of “ignoring” a memorandum from unions at Prince Mshiyeni denouncing outsourcing and the poor safety at government hospitals.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) official, Bheki Shezi, on Tuesday said they had already hired buses to take them to the venue of the five-day conference. He said they were yet to decide on whether to take their picket to the ICC on Wednesday or Thursday.
Shezi said they had allowed nurses to tend to patients earlier on Tuesday, but this would not happen on wednesday because they would shut down operations for the entire day.
“The workers are powerful, and he (Dhlomo) knows that he is in his position because of the people,” said Shezi.
Doctors who joined the picket fear for their lives, particularly when working night shifts.
This follows the killing of two hospital security guards and an invasion of the hospital, where, according to Shezi, the tyres of more than 25 health department vehicles were punctured, windows smashed and employees threatened and called “rats”, by the strikers.
None of the protesting doctors and nurses would speak to the Daily News.
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters outside the hospital gates after numerous warnings that they were contravening a court order which prohibited them from picketing within 500m of the gates.
Shezi said a memorandum of demands had been submitted to the department’s risk services manager, Vukani Dlamini, in the MEC’s absence, late last month. A response had been expected within seven days, but none had been forthcoming.
“After seven days we wrote to the MEC, as organised labour unions at Prince Mshiyeni, seeking answers for the lack of acknowledgement of our memorandum,” Shezi said.
Sicelo Myeza, chairman of the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) at the hospital, said: “Our biggest problem is the lack of safety for workers inside the hospital and clinics under Prince Mshiyeni. “The killing of security guards at the hospital has left workers feeling uneasy, so people are fearful because anything can happen to them when they knock on or off work.”
“We are taking a stand because the outsourced employees have said they were not finished (with the killings). They said to send a strong message to department authorities, they will target five patients, a doctor and a nurse,” he said.
Myeza said a male nurse at King Edward Hospital was fighting for his life after he was beaten by the picketers to “within an inch of his life”. However, this could not be confirmed at time of publication.
“We cannot continue working in a place like this, and we have written countless letters to the MEC since June, but he has not responded to us,” said Myeza.
He said it was hurtful to the picketers that Dhlomo had found time this week to attend the court appearance of a man accused of the murder of 45-year-old Prince Mshiyeni Hospital security guard, Thandazile Buthelezi, while he was walking home from work last month. But “he (Dhlomo) couldn’t even give us five minutes of his time to give us a specific date when he will address us”.
Derrick Vusumuzi Sikhakhane appeared at the uMlazi Magistrate’s Court on Monday charged with three counts of murder, relating to the killing of two Prince Mshiyeni security guards and a police officer
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) provincial organiser, Mandla Shabangu, agreed that nurses and other hospital workers were picketing because they feared for their safety.
The memorandum included concerns about staff being intimidated and harassed.
SA Public Servants Union member and a member of the interim leadership of the strike at Prince Mshiyeni, Thabani Mdingi, distanced the outsourced workers from the murders and said crimes at the hospital had been committed by opportunists seeking to tarnish their cause.
“All we want is to be integrated into the department’s payroll as stipulated in the new labour relations act, which came into effect in April 2015,” he said.
KZN Health Department spokesman Desmond Motha said Dhlomo was busy at the Aids conference this morning and referred queries to a colleague who did not answer Daily News calls.