Thousands back to work

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

Thousands of members of one of the 17 unions involved in the strike will return to work today.

Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) workers countrywide gave the union the mandate to sign on the dotted line with the government on Friday.

Hospersa provincial spokesman Noel Desfontaines said: "Our original mandate for the wage negotiations was anything more than 7percent. The government's offer of 7,5percent exceeds this demand. Our members will go back to work today."

The union has 86000 members of which KwaZulu-Natal constitutes 23000. Most Hospersa members work in public hospitals.

KwaZulu-Natal health spokesman Leon Mbangwa said: "We hope other unions follow Hospersa and return to work."

Today the department puts in place further contingency plans to assist skeleton staff of doctors and senior health professionals at the 71 government hospitals.

Mbangwa said staff turnout at hospitals stands at about 80percent. But the 10 major hospitals in the Durban region appear to be crippled by the strike where reports of intimidation and death threats against healthworkers are growing.

"Our doctors and nurses in Durban receive death threats while on duty. Strikers phone and tell them 'we know where you live'. Some have received threats that their children will be kidnapped.

"So they have little choice but to pack their bags and leave the hospital. We are working closely with police to make sure that the safety of our staff and patients is a priority," he said.

A further 44 SANDF health personnel were sent to help at critical hospitals at the weekend .

Mbangwa said the department's bill to supplement healthcare as a result of the 24-day strike will run into millions of rand.