Cape Town - South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla has welcomed the court judgment urging essential workers from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) to return to work on Tuesday.
“I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues, the former Acting Minister and the current Minister, for pursuing this matter in the courts relentlessly for the protection of the vulnerable members of the community who depend solely on public health services.
“There is no doubt that the strike has disrupted the provision of essential healthcare services in the country, leading to untold suffering and frustrations amongst the public, who desperately needed healthcare and life-saving treatment and other interventions in the public health facilities,” Phaahla said.
The union agreed to suspend the strike to consult its legal representatives. However, they will let non-essential workers continue protesting.
“We have addressed members in the picket line and the throughout the country. The union is implementing the outcome of the interdict. Non-essential workers are continuing with the pickets, and they are continuing with the strike,” said Nehawu Gauteng deputy provincial secretary, Mzikayise Tshontshi.
Phaalha said while the Labour Relations Act allows for a strike, the court judgment concurs with the view that was always held by his ministry and the department that essential workers are prohibited from engaging in disruptive industrial action that is detrimental to healthcare services with a risk of life.
“It is for this reason that Parliament enacted this Act in line with Bill of Rights, whilst making provision of the withdrawal of labour in general. However, it excluded essential services from this right. In order to protect the rights of essential services workers, the law creates a mechanism for deadlock breaking through mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
“It is regrettable that this strike action has gone on, causing untold hardship, pain, frustration and possible loss of life in its cause while it could have been avoided. It is inconceivable that leadership of Nehawu were oblivious to the provisions of our law in this regard,” Phaahla said.
He said workers in the health sector who do not pitch for work would be in contempt of court and are liable to face charges of misconduct.
“As already indicated, any employee who fails to comply with the court order will be committing act of misconduct subject to disciplinary action, including possible dismissal.
“Any person committing any criminal acts in pursuit of the strike action will be subjected to criminal proceedings by the law enforcement agencies. Over and above what is stated, all managers are obliged to apply the principle of ‘no work, no pay’, and this should be applied with immediate effect.
“We urge all the workers in the health sector, as defined in the court order, to report to their workplace,” Phaahla said.
He also apologised to all South Africans who experienced pain, humiliation and suffering as a result of the strike.