Government says striking health workers will be fired today

Pertunia Ratsatsi, Mhlaba Memela and Frank Maponya

Pertunia Ratsatsi, Mhlaba Memela and Frank Maponya

Health workers who acted selfishly at the expense of patients will be fired today, said Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.

Speaking at a press briefing in Tshwane yesterday, Fraser- Moleketi said the government remained steadfast in its resolve to proceed against employees who ignored the law.

She said the dismissal letters will be issued against health workers who have failed to respond to the ultimatum from the Health Department issued last week.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel described the striking health workers' behaviour as cruel and unconstitutional.

He said the cost of the strike went beyond the loss of rands and cents.

"How do you measure the fact that learners have been denied access to teaching in the classroom for an extensive period of time?

"That has a direct impact on the future of the learners.

"How do you measure the cost of people who are denied access to healthcare?

"You may be saving money on bandages and drugs and salaries, but there are different kinds of costs of which you need to be aware," Manuel said.

Fraser-Moleketi stressed that severe action will be taken against those involved in intimidation.

She said the Safety and Security and Defence Ministers have committed resources to ensure that all government services continue without disruption and that the public are able to access services.

"The security forces will protect both the rights of individuals and the community including access to education and health.

"The government has put a substantial offer on the table. The offer represents a 47percent total cost to the employer increase from our original offer. Our offer is substantially more than the 6,5 percent general cost of living plus increase," Fraser-Moleketi said.

Minister of Education Naledi Pandor said that mid- year examinations will resume this week.

"Everybody has a right to withdraw their labour but we call on parents to urge their children to go to school," Pandor said.

The government's uncompromising stance on the strike looks set to exacerbate the highly charged atmosphere.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) warned government yesterday that threatening to fire workers would provoke more anger from the workers and undermine negotiations.

"The union strongly condemns today's threats and intimidation by the Minister of Health to dismiss workers who are on strike," Nehawu said in a statement.

"Dismissing workers will not address the current public service crisis, the root cause of which is total disregard of workers' demands by government."

In KwaZulu-Natal, staff shortages caused by the strike have led to the curtailing of services at the Addington, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central hospitals.

Doctors have been forced to mop floors, stretcher patients and change linen at King Edward VIII and Grey's hospitals.

In Limpopo health services ground to a halt following allegations of intimidation against health workers who were reporting for duty.

"While every effort is being made to take care of patients, we are also experiencing a situation where our officials are being victimised by those on strike.

"Their safety is also a matter of concern to us," said Phuti Seloba, spokesman of Limpopo's department of health.

lSee pages 8 and 14