Second chance for fired health workers

Sne Masuku

Sne Masuku

Thirty-eight health workers, including nurses who were fired for participating in an "illegal and unprotected" strike, are now able to get their jobs back.

The KwaZulu-Natal health workers were sacked last year after thousands of them embarked on a month-long protest over unpaid rural allowances in the province.

But getting their jobs back will not be easy - they will have to apply for advertised posts and undergo all the necessary interviews like any other applicant.

The department took the decision in November.

The nurses have been sitting at home without jobs for almost a year now, and though the news that they can apply for vacant posts means a better chance of getting their jobs back, they are worried that making them go through the application process is just an excuse to keep doors closed to them.

"The department wanted to make an example by firing only a few of us, and we have learnt our lesson," said one of the nurses, who said he was worried about how to keep up with payments on the debts that have accumulated.

"Our children are hungry because we were breadwinners.

Putting food on the table for all these months without an income has been extremely difficult because nursing is the only professional training I have," he said.

The nurses are also worried that hospitals might shun them.

Spokesman for the provincial National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Supa Zuma, said talks with the department and the bargaining council led to the decision to allow the fired nurses to reapply for their jobs.

"We believe that one person fired from a job adds to poverty. And we would have been happy had they been simply reinstated without having to undergo the application process," he said.

The department of health in the province fired 38 health workers who were found to have been actively involved in the strike.

The department at the time said that it had proof that the sacked employees had been actively involved in intimidating other employees.

The department had initially fired more than 1000 of them.

A tribunal was set up and listened to all the cases. It recommended that 365 nurses be found not guilty of taking part in the illegal strike.

It also recommended that they be reinstated and be paid in full for the period they were fired.

About 720 nurses were found to have been involved in the strike and the tribunal recommended that they be re-instated, but given final written warnings and be subjected to disciplinary hearings.

The 38 fired health workers were not subjected to any disciplinary hearings.

Health department spokesman Leon Mbangwa said he was not aware of this arrangement and he could neither deny nor confirm that Nehawu and its members had been sent letters to that effect.