Unions vow to shut down services as government fires protesters

Sibongile Mashaba,Sne Masuku, Riot Hlatshwayo and Frank Maponya

Sibongile Mashaba,Sne Masuku, Riot Hlatshwayo and Frank Maponya

The stage is set for more blood on the floor as government and unions continue to hurl bricks and mortar at each other as the public service strike escalated yesterday.

Government's decision to fire striking nurses ignited a chain reaction from Cosatu and its affiliates. The Gauteng department of health took the lead yesterday when it fired 384 employees.

The fired employees include chief professional nurses, senior enrolled nurses, clerks, general assistants, linen supervisors, operators and laundry employees, provincial health department spokesman Zanele Mngadi said.

Cosatu president Willie Madisha described the latest government offer of 7,25 percent as "total madness".

One of Cosatu's most influential affiliates, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), pledged support for tomorrow's planned shutdown. Numsa said it will join the marches and protest demonstrations scheduled for the day.

Numsa's special central committee has also appealed to its members who are working night and afternoon shifts to take part in their thousands, it said in a statement.

Tempting as it might be to dismiss the unions' utterances as mere posturing after government announced its security plans for hospitals and schools, the situation on the ground points to an increasingly polarised environment.

The South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) yesterday accused the government of intransigence and not being reflective of people representing a developmental state.

"We shall be left with no other alternative but to mobilise for an even more intensified sympathy strike if this is not resolved," Samwu provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said.

But the South African Local Government Association (Salga) has brought an urgent application in the Labour Court to stop municipal workers from embarking on a sympathy strike.

Samwu would oppose the matter when it comes before the court in Johannesburg today, said general secretary Mthandeki Nhlapo.

l The department of health in KwaZulu-Natal is seeking legal advice before deciding whether to dismiss striking nurses.

"Should matters reach a stage where we have to fire nurses who disregarded the department's ultimatum to go back to work, we would like to do it by the law," said Leon Mbangwa, KwaZulu-Natal health spokesman.

l The strike took another twist in Mpumalanga yesterday when pupils in uniform joined striking public servants who marched to several government offices to force non-striking workers to join the action.

l The Limpopo department of health and social development said yesterday it was sending out letters of dismissal to striking employees who have disobeyed a court order preventing them from striking.

Department spokesman Phuti Seloba said by close of business yesterday they hoped to have sent out more than 1000 letters of dismissals to the affected employees in various health institutions in the province.