By SUE MACLENNAN AND KATHRYN CLEARY
Health union Hospersa has accused the Eastern Cape Department of Health of siding with a group of employees demanding the removal of a senior manager at Fort England Hospital. They say they will use all legal means at their disposal to protect against the intimidation and unfair treatment they allege their members are being subjected to.
The group has toyi-toyiied several times outside the hospital’s main administration building since 18 June this year. Both protesters and the National Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu’s) regional office confirmed Nehawu’s involvement in the 18 June protest and subsequent negotiations with the Health Department’s Labour Relations Officer.
But last week, both Nehawu and the Democratic Nurses’ Association of South Africa (Denosa) denied any knowledge of similar protests that occurred at the hospital last Monday and Tuesday. Last week’s protests were led by the Nehawu branch chairperson and many of the same people were involved as on 18 June.
Hospersa, meanwhile, has vowed to exercise all its available legal avenues to ensure it protects its members, saying they have been subjected to intimidation and unfounded allegations.
Of concern, Hospersa spokesperson Kevin Halama said in a statement Monday 15 July, was that the Department had seemingly sided with the striking employees.
The protesting employees are demanding the removal of a senior manager against whom they have made allegations and have demanded that the person be transferred to another institution.
“Striking employees have also targeted some of the other senior manager’s colleagues whereby acts of intimidation, indirect victimisation and the use of hate speech have been reported,” Halama said.
The senior manager at the centre of the protesters’ allegations is a Hospersa member.
“The Union has [also]come out strongly against the conduct of the striking employees,” Halama said.
Hospersa had written to Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, citing its concerns over the Health Department’s handling of the situation. Hospersa criticises what it says is bias in favour of the striking employees, “whereby little is being done to restore order at that hospital”.
“We are alarmed that the Eastern Cape (EC) Department of Health (DoH) has opted to be held [to]ransom by the striking employees instead of treating this matter with absolute fairness,” said Halama. “We have raised our concerns with the EC Health MEC over the conduct of the striking employees whose actions are not only unlawful but also threatens to destabilise the critical service that the hospital delivers. Hospersa will not stand by and watch while its members are being victimised due to unfounded allegations.”
On 8 July Grocott’s Mail reported that Health Department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the Department was at that stage unable to confirm the extent of the industrial action and that it was illegal. Manana said last Monday night that an advocate would be appointed to investigate the allegations and counter-allegations. At that stage, he said MEC Sindiswa Gomba had stipulated a two-week deadline for the compilation of this report.
Meanwhile, all staff named in the conflict would be transferred away from the institution.
Manana this week confirmed that an advocate has been appointed by the State Attorney. “We are finalising the Terms of Reference for the Investigation,” Manana told Grocott’s Mail on Wednesday 17 July.
Hospersa cautiously welcomed the new probe.
“We welcome the investigation being done by the EC DoH and hope that it is not a smoke screen exercise to remove our members from the hospital,” said Halama. “In the past, we have seen how the EC DoH was reluctant to act against employees found to have threatened senior staff members in that hospital.
“Should our members suffer the same fate as that of Dr Walsh, it would mean that the EC DoH condones the intimidation and illegal action that our members have been subjected to.”
The removal of Roger Walsh from his position as the hospital’s chief executive, as a result of union action in 2015 and 2016, made headlines. In February this year, a Labour Court judgment on Walsh’s appeal against his removal held that unions and their officials had unlawfully hounded Walsh from his post and the hospital. It held that the Department of Health’s failure at that time to respond appropriately to unlawful union action had set a dangerous precedent.
“Hospersa will continue providing support to its members until this matter has been resolved and order is restored to that hospital,” Halama said. “We will also exercise all our available legal avenues to ensure that we protect the employment of our members which has now come under attack.”
Asked whether disciplinary action would be taken against the group engaged in unprotected industrial action, Manana said, “Illegal strike action is governed by [the Labour Relations Act].
On Hospersa’s allegation that the Department was siding with the group of protesters, Manana said, “The department is apolitical. We side with no particular Union.”
- Updated to include comment from the Department of Health, received Wednesday 17 July. Grocott’s Mail has not sought comment from Nehawu or Denosa, since both unions explicitly denied knowledge of last week’s protests. Nehawu’s response regarding the 18 June protests may be seen in the article below.