The gloves are off as Limpopo health workers prepare to down tools over shift disputes despite a warning from the province’s Department of Health head. Earlier this week, the head of department, Thokozani Mhlongo warned that the strike would be illegal, and those health workers that participated in it would risk not getting the Covid-19 vaccine jab.
But the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa, and the Public Service Association said they were not moved by Mhlongo’s threats.
Addressing the media at Limpopo Cosatu House the following day, the unions, represented by Cosatu provincial deputy chairperson, Calvin Chamano, said the strike action would commence from the following Monday.
He said health care workers would shut down services in all 43 hospitals, more than 400 clinics and emergency management services stations in the province. He also denounced statements by the department that the strike would be illegal.
“We have a certificate to strike and it’s also irresponsible for the head of department to give health workers an ultimatum that if they partake in this strike, they won’t get vaccinated. Being vaccinated is the right of health workers imposed by the president of the country,” he said.
The unions threatened legal action if Mhlongo imposed that decision not to give health workers the jab. The unions said the issue of mitigation will surface if Mhlongo insists on the matter of no work, no vaccination, adding that they won’t allow that irresponsible behaviour.
Mhlongo said the unions are fiercely contesting Circular no 43 of 2020 and Circular 4 of 2021, which they claim categorise health workers as shift workers, and says workers are expected to work over the weekend and public holidays, which contravenes the contract of employment act.
“Workers in the department are not happy with these circulars as it contravenes resolution, 01 of 2007, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. As organised labour, we have lost patience after exhausting all available venues due to the arrogant attitude displayed by the Department of Health in all meetings. So, we vow to shut down all services,” said Mhlongo.
The unions further claimed they did not embark on the strike last year because of COVID-19 reaching its peak in December. However, they did concede that they would rather go back to the negotiation table if the department would listen to them rather than engage in a strike when they are an essential service.
“We have been ready to engage. We have spent many meetings with government about this. We even came from a meeting this morning with the MEC of Health (Dr Phophi Ramathuba) to engage further, so we are willing to engage in meaningful meetings without undermining each other and as long as the other party does not bring the barrel of a gun.”
At a press briefing hosted by the Limpopo health department earlier this week, Mhlongo said that the department was ready for any strike action.
“I’ve got means to deal with strikers and ensure the continuation of service delivery. We have a framework that we take on action when there is a strike. It would be informed by our own assessment on how the threat is. If we feel the threat is high then we would kick interventions in in accordance with the level of the risk to the services,” Mhlongo said.