Health workers' strike leaves Limpopo patients in the lurch

Services ground to a halt at various government departments in Limpopo as officials affiliated to the National‚ Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) embarked on a protest action over a pay dispute.

Patients had to be turned away from several hospitals as striking workers‚ including nurses who render essential services‚ joined in the protest action.

The unprotected strike started on Wednesday and culminated in a total shutdown of services in the departments of health‚ education and social development on Thursday.

Patients who came from various areas to get treatment at the Polokwane Hospital were left frustrated as they could not access the institution as a result of the strike.

Calvin Ngobeni‚ 40‚ a cancer and tuberculosis patient from Botlokwa‚ was found sitting outside of the premises of Polokwane Hospital while still wearing the patients’ uniform from Botlokwa Hospital.

A visibly-frustrated Ngobeni said‚ “I came to Polokwane Hospital by ambulance hoping to be checked and given medication. And now I may not know what my condition is because there are no services rendered due to the strike”.

Another patient‚ Salphy Molokomme‚ from GaMachaba village in Senwabarwana‚ said she had come on a referral from Helen Franz Hospital to be treated for her severely burnt right hand.

“I came all the way hoping to get help‚ including changing bandages on my hand. Now that government employees are on strike I do not know where I will get another referral letter‚ because the one I have was only meant for one day‚” said the 34-year-old woman.

Nehawu is demanding payment for monies owed to its members since 2012. The union’s chairman at the provincial department of health‚ Tonny Rachuene‚ said the system used to pay bonuses was divisive.

“For instance‚ if 100 people got scored five in their performance agreements‚ only 10% of those employees are entitled to bonuses and the rest are not paid anything‚” said Rachuene.

Spokesman for the provincial department of health‚ Derrick Kganyago‚ said it was regrettable that some of the officials rendering essential services had embarked on “an unlawful” protest action.

“We call on our officials to respect the rights of patients and to remember the oath that they made with us‚” said Kganyago.

He added it was “unfortunate” that they had to seek the intervention of the courts by applying an interdict which was granted against Nehawu and the striking members.

He said they expected the striking workers back at work “with immediate effect” and failure to comply the striking workers will be in contempt and will be subjected to disciplinary measures.

“We had to go that route because patients’ lives were at risk and at the same time we continue to engage with the union to find a common ground‚” Kganyago said. — TMG Digital


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