Union slams Department’s ‘lack of will’
A senior manager at Fort England Hospital in Makhanda who was ordered off the premises last Friday is being used as a ‘sacrificial lamb’, says Hospersa. The union has briefed lawyers following treatment of operations manager Stafford Fry that they’ve flagged as unfair, contrived and unprocedural. They say Fry’s removal is nothing more than an attempt to silence him after he reported numerous instances of misconduct and corruption within the institution.
On Friday 21 February 2020, members of the public alerted Grocott’s Mail to a protest by a group of Fort England staff outside the hospital’s main gate. By the time Grocott’s Mail arrived, a group of around 15 were gathered just inside the main gate. A barricade of branches and rubbish bins behind the closed boom prevented a queue of vehicles from exiting the hospital grounds.
The group was being addressed by a man whom Grocott’s Mail believes to be a Nehawu office bearer. They instructed a security guard to remove this reporter from outside the hospital gate and when that failed, threw sticks and small pebbles. None was willing speak to Grocott’s Mail but we understood they were demanding Fry’s removal, that the MEC come to the hospital to enforce this, and that they receive a report on a 2019 investigation into their grievances.
On Monday in a telephone interview, Nehawu’s Regional Secretary Mlungiseleli Ncapayi said the union’s leadership had met with the MEC for Health, Sindiswa Gomba, on Friday. “We sent the regional organiser to try and rescue the situation. I have had no report yet on what happened,” Ncapayi said on Monday. “I was just told that head office sent officials there. Today I am waiting for the regional organiser to brief me.” He said he was unable to provide more information until then.
Health and public service workers union Hospersa operates at Fort England Hospital alongside the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) and the majority National Health and Allied Workers Union. In July last year, a group of around 20 that included Nehawu members protested for two days outside the hospital’s main administration block, demanding the removal of Fry and other senior managers. The group included Nehawu’s Fort England Branch Secretary Phakamisa Soxujwa. Nehawu’s regional leadership at the time, however, denied knowledge of any industrial action and Denosa distanced themselves from that protest.
A confidential letter sent earlier to the Department’s provincial office had alleged intimidation of certain staff, including Fry, by a group of current and former employees. The letter sent 18 June 2019 expressed critical concern for the well-being and safety of staff and patients at the level 3 psychiatric facility.
Following the subsequent protests, the Department appointed an advocate to look into grievances at Fort England Hospital and demands that certain managers be removed from the institution. This culminated in a report dated 21 November 2019. Grocott’s Mail understands it was this report that the group protesting last Friday were demanding.
Hospersa said Fry, who is a member of that union, was subjected to a ‘precautionary transfer’ and instructed to report for duty on 24 February 2020 at Settlers Hospital.
However, the union says due process was not followed.
“Precautionary transfer is a concept that is codified in the Public Service Disciplinary Code and Procedure (PSCBC Resolution 1/2003),” said the union’s legal manager Sean McGladdery. “It has application only where an employee is suspected of serious misconduct and is effected to remove the suspected employee from their work place pending further investigation or the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.”
This was not the case with Fry, who was not the subject of any investigation based on misconduct, McGladdery emphasised.
“We therefore contend that the transfer is contrived and unfair. An act of transferring an employee in the public service is an administrative action, and as such, the employer, in this case the Eastern Cape Department of Health must exercise its authority in a fair manner,” McGladdery said.
“Fairness dictates that there must be a rational reason and not one that prejudices the employee or creates a career impediment. Prior to any transfer taking place, the employer is obliged to consult first with the employee, obtain their input or representations, give considered thought to those representations and then take a final decision, taking such input from the employee into account.”
That had not been done in the case of Fry, who instead had been was summonsed to a meeting at around 3pm on Friday and handed over the letter by the institution’s CEO in the presence of a shop steward and officials from the Department’s Labour Relations directorate.
“No due process was followed and the departmental officials were unable to say for how long the transfer would remain in effect. I was joined in with a telephone conference call and requested details as to in terms of what prescript or enabling legislation the transfer was to take place. No reasons were given, save that my concerns should be put in writing,” McGladdery said.
McGladdery said the union was not consulted prior to the decision to transfer Fry.
“The so-called consultations were a sham,” McGladdery said. “He was called to the meeting late on Friday in the presence of a shop steward and presented with the letter instructing him to relocate as a fait accompli. It had already been drafted and signed, so there can be no talk of consultation.”
McGladdery believes that Fry was targeted for reporting irregular activities at the hospital.
“Mr Fry has on numerous occasions alerted higher authority about concerns regarding acts of misconduct, corruption and other activities,” McGladdery said. “He has done so in his capacity as a manager as simply, that is what a manager is required to do… In doing so, he has incurred the wrath of certain elements in the hospital and a sister trade union. These parties clearly have an interest in silencing Mr Fry, as the various reports he has made include inconvenient truths.
“The union’s position is that Mr Fry has been treated unfairly,” McGladdery said. “The Department lacks the will or ability, or both to deal with this situation and would rather identify a scapegoat.
“Mr Fry has been used a sacrificial lamb due to the Department’s weak stance and lack of will to deal strongly with other errant employees of the hospital. Mr Fry has been transferred, yet no action has been taken against employees of the hospital who have engaged in numerous acts of misconduct and unlawful industrial action.”
He said Hospersa had instructed their lawyers regarding the Department’s conduct, and Fry’s transfer.
Grocott’s Mail has been unsuccessful in attempts to contact Ncapayi since Monday. Provincial Secretary Miki Jaceni said on Tuesday he would respond to questions later. We’ll include their responses when we receive them.
We sent detailed questions about Fry’s sudden removal to the provincial Department of Health and invited them to respond to the allegations, including that they had taken no action against employees of the hospital who had engaged in numerous acts of misconduct and unlawful industrial action.
Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo replied: “His transfer is a precautionary measure to allow investigations levelled against him. His union was consulted about the move as it is [in]the best interest of the institution and the affected employee.”
Grocott’s Mail has seen a copy of the Department’s letter ordering Fry’s transfer. In fact the letter does not refer to any current investigations against Fry. Instead the letter signed by Deputy Director Dr Litha Matiwane cites Fry’s personal safety as the main concern. It is headed, ‘Precautionary transfer yourself: your safety’. It refers to episodes of instability and labour unrest at the hospital, and a subsequent report submitted by a team from the Department’s head office that investigated it.
“Indications are that allowing you to remain at Fort England Hospital poses a serious risk to you person and property,” Dr Matiwane says, explaining that it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the safety of employees. “You are therefore hereby instructed to report to the Chief Executive Officer, Settlers Hospital Grahamstown at 8am on Monday 24 February 2020.”
In July 2016, at the height of labour action to force former CEO Roger Walsh’s removal from the institution, Dr Litha Matiwane, then Chief Director: Hospital Services, similarly instructed him not to return to the hospital. The Eastern Cape Department of Health made it clear they would not back Walsh’s bid to remain in his post. The Department bypassed the recommendations of two inquiries, sought to transfer him to another town and cut his salary by nearly half, in what a judge early last year described as “craven capitulation to the unlawful demands by the unions to have the applicant removed from his post”.
Note on the aggression encountered by this reporter
Grocott’s Mail’s concerns about the instruction to a security guard to remove our reporter from a public space as well as the incident of protesters throwing sticks and stones were referred to Nehawu’s Regional Secretary Mlungiseleli Ncapayi, who said, “Our union does not have a policy of being intolerant: the space we operate in we accommodates various stakeholders. We don’t have any policy that says you must attack or intimidate people.” He said he would request a report on the incident. Grocott’s Mail is not able to say with certainty that those throwing missiles were Nehawu members.