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LIMPOPO Health MEC Norman Mabasa has condemned as “a national embarrassment” the non-payment of overtime allowances for emergency medical workers by his department.

The Star reported this week that emergency workers had threatened to go on strike. Some workers claimed the department owed them more than R30 000 dating back to August last year.

Yesterday Mabasa told The Star he regretted the error.

“The non-payment of emergency workers is very disturbing. The fact that this comes from as far as last year August is a very worrying issue,” he said.

He promised to pay them starting from next week, and said the last payment would be made in November.

Mabasa vowed to discipline officials who had not paid the emergency personnel.

“They caused strife in the community. It’s a national embarrassment to hear that our emergency medical workers are crippled. It’s an embarrassment if emergency workers go on strike,” said Mabasa.

He said an investigation would be launched to identify those responsible.

“If you find anybody is culpable and, depending on the severity of the offence, you give them a sentence that will range from… final written warning to… dismissal,” said Mabasa.

He admitted that a possible strike by emergency workers, which would include ambulance attendants and paramedics, would have dire implications for the province.

“There are accidents, people shoot each other, people burn inside houses, you need emergency medical workers and, anybody who cripples that section, which is the heartbeat of health-care service delivery, must face the music,” said Mabasa.

He took strong exception to health workers being expected to work while they had not been paid.

He indicated that his officials had kept the non-payment a secret from him.

“The fact that I only heard it last week tells you that we have got some kind of a clot somewhere. There is a blockage of information, and that cannot be tolerated,” said Mabasa, who joined the department as MEC in March after Premier Cassel Mathale reshuffled his cabinet.

Limpopo has had cash-flow problems, and the province’s health department was among five departments that were placed under administration in December to sort out the financial mess.

Mabasa said this was no excuse for not paying workers.

Emergency service personnel remained sceptical, however.

“We don’t trust them any more. They must just pay us; perhaps they may win our trust again,” said Mpho Mpogeng, president of the SA Emergency Personnel Union, which claims to represent more than 90 percent of the emergency staff in the department.

But Mabasa said: “I would urge them to also have a conscience that says ‘let’s not allow anyone to die because of mere lack of trust’. If they could wait for this long, why not wait for another week to start seeing things happening?”

Meanwhile, nurses at the Rethabile Community Clinic in Polokwane have threatened to go on strike because the department had not paid their performance bonuses.