Monday, June 11, 2007

South African Labour Update: Minister of Health Theatens to Dismiss Strikers; Vavi Warns of Violence

Vavi warns of strike violence

Cape Town, South Africa
11 June 2007 05:51

The public-sector strike could soon "turn violent", Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned on Monday.

Unions did not want the strike to continue unnecessarily, he told the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) national congress in Cape Town.

"We're quite aware of the consequences of allowing the strike to prolong to the second and to the third week," he said.

"Workers will soon be angry, they will be frustrated, and they will see anybody going to work, irrespective of how genuine their reasons are, as basically betraying their cause.

"And very soon the strike will turn violent.

"We don't want that, and that is why we say to the government, our door is open [for more talks] this afternoon."

Vavi said the 7,25% pay rise put forward by mediators, which has met with approval from the government, was not substantially different from the 6% the government had been offering for weeks.

"I think that the union movement is ready to engage but on the basis that [there] is a serious offer placed on the table by the government," he said.

He said unions had revised their demand from 12% to 10% while the government was increasing its offer by barely noticeable increments.

He called for more decisive movement on the employer's part.

"The government's response to that is to just continuously increase the offer by 0,2%, 0,5%, 0,2%. That's not how you act in order to resolve any strike action."

He hoped the government would act decisively to avoid a planned general strike on Wednesday in support of the public-sector unions.

Earlier, Popcru president Zizamele Cebekhulu told the South African Press Association at the congress that police and prison staff would join the strike if the wage dispute was not resolved.

He said Popcru would give negotiators a week to come to an agreement.

"If they fail to solve it, we're going to strike."

He said Popcru members were also workers, concerned about their salaries, and did not want the dispute to go on forever.

"We're not sitting here because we're afraid to join them, but we're saying we look at a variety of matters, protection of our society, the current rate of crime and we cannot give criminals a free lunch over our communities."

It was only respect for the safety and security of South Africans that was holding Popcru back, he said.

Popcru has 120 000 members, just over half of them in the police.

Police and prison staff are classed as essential services workers, and are barred by law from going on strike.


Earlier it was reported that the government is to consider a proposal put forward by mediators to increase public-service wages by 7,25%.

However, Cosatu said it would not agree to it.

"The government welcomes the proposal that the mediator in the public-sector wage negotiations has put forward -- at the request of organised labour -- to settle the current dispute," Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said in a statement.

"We are currently considering the proposal ... [we are] hopeful that the latest development will lead to a settlement," she added.

Cosatu President Willie Madisha said the federation's affiliated public-service unions "won't agree" to the proposal

"There are people who earn about R2 750 -- if you say 7,25% it means it about R3 000 basically; still they cannot survive," Madisha said.

He said considering the rising fuel and food prices, a 7,25% increase would actually mean a decrease in pay.

"We can not allow that, it is wrong," he said.

Madisha said workers had lost R1-billion in wages since the start of the strike, but gave no details of how he arrived at the figure.

Cosatu and independent labour unions were meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the mediators' proposals.

Charles Nupen and Meshack Ravuku, who have been mediating the talks since Friday, drew up the document, which was handed to government and union negotiators late on Sunday night.

"We had an opportunity to be with both parties, to interact with them, and out of that we have come up with proposals that we believe will be able to appease the parties to reach settlement," said Ravuku.

Negotiators were set to resume talks at the Public Sector Coordinating Bargaining Council on Tuesday.


Health workers have begun receiving letters of dismissal for defying a government ultimatum that they return to work, the Department of Health said on Monday.

Spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said his department was "refining the statistics" and could not say exactly how many workers had been axed.

Those who had defied the government's ultimatum issued a week would face dismissal, he said.

The move followed an announcement by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on Saturday.

Health workers were regarded as essential-service workers -- prohibited from taking part in industrial action under the Labour Relations Act.

Moeketsi Mohai, general secretary of the South African Democratic Nurses' Union (Sadnu), which is affiliated to Cosatu, said the government's decision to dismiss striking nurses was "shocking".

"By implication these services are not essential. If the government can dismiss thousands of health workers, then the services can't be essential," he said.

"Clearly the position that the government has taken does not assist in resolving the situation, but only fuels it to levels of anarchy."

He said if the government continued dismissing nurses, Sadnu would call on about 9 000 of its members who are continuing to render services in critical areas to join the strike.


JOHANNESBURG 9 June 2007 Sapa


Striking workers will be dismissed, the health department
decided on Saturday.

"All provincial health departments should commence issuing
letters of termination of service with immediate effect," Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in Pretoria.

She made the announcement after a meeting with Public Service
and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

Tshabalala-Msimang could not say how many health workers would be fired.

It was a small group, not including many who wanted to return to work, but could not for fear of intimidation, she said.

"I'm greatly concerned about the reports from many facilities
about how health professionals behaved in ways totally discordant to their vows to put the lives of patients above everything else," she said.

"Such behaviour does not belong in the health professions."

"The information we are getting on the ground is that the health workers are really willing to return to work, I think it is the level of intimidation that they are experiencing (preventing them from returning).

"Once we assure them of their safety they will go back," she

She said the police and defence force had been deployed to
ensure the safety of those who wanted to return to work, but feared intimidation.

Meanwhile, Tshabalala-Msimang called on volunteers and retired health workers willing to help to approach their local health facilities.

Health director-general Thami Mseleku warned the nurses last
Sunday that they faced dismissal if they did not return to work.

The nurses are striking for better pay, along with the rest of the public service. Their absence has crippled many public health facilities.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said the dismissals
would anger workers and their unions.

"All the trade unions will be extremely angry at this
provocative and quite unnecessary move by the government," said Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven.

"It is clearly just an act of intimidation which we have
condemned from all sides and particularly condemn now. It will make workers extremely angry.

"There is no question that we will be demanding that these
letters be withdrawn as part of any settlement," he said.

The casualty, surgery and intensive care units of Soweto's Chris Hani-Baragwanath hospital were declared disaster zones on Friday by its chief executive officer Arthur Manning.

Patients in the units had to be moved into private care, said
hospital spokeswoman, Hester van den Heever, adding that the
hospital did not have enough nurses with the specialist skills needed to work in the three units,

Durban's King Edward VIII was forced to close altogether on
Friday after a week of limited services and intimidation.

The SABC reported that the Limpopo health department was moving patients from badly hit hospitals to those which were less affected by the strike, and was still using soldiers to bolster the staff complement.

In Mpumalanga, the situation at the 300-bed Rob Ferreira
Hospital, in Nelspruit, was gradually improving, with 30 nurses on duty on Saturday morning - in addition to soldiers.

The hospital's acting chief executive officer Savera Mohangi
told the SABC less sick patients had been discharged, leaving only 170 patients needing special medical attention in the hospital.

"Go back and take care of the patients because some hospital's patients are suffering because service has been affected," urged Eastern Cape health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo.

"The assistance from the SA National Defence Force is not
enough," he said.

Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha said the company had put extra ambulance staff on duty to cope with the workload in KwaZulu-Natal, where according to health spokesman Leon Mbanja, no provincial ambulances were running in eThekweni.

The KwaZulu-Natal health management team was in a meeting on
Saturday to discuss the effects of the strike.

"We have a crisis," he said.

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