Health department pledges to pay oustanding bonuses

The Gauteng health department has moved to defuse tension with unions that led to last week's violent protests at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital by undertaking to pay outstanding staff bonuses by the end of the month.

Unpaid bonuses for the 2016/2017 fiscal year were the trigger for Thursday's violent disruption of services, which saw operations postponed and patients turned away as members of various public sector unions threatened staff, blocked entrances and strewed rubbish about the facility.

The hospital is one of Gauteng's four academic hospitals. Thursday's demonstration was the latest in a series of similar incidents in the province: operations were cancelled at Leratong Hospital in Krugersdorp on the West Rand on Tuesday due to protests, while services at Charlotte Maxeke were brought to a standstill in late April by union members.

The National Health Education and Allied Workers Union's (Nehawu) Gauteng secretary, Tshepo Mokheranyana, said he hoped the latest incident had "taught the department a lesson" but in the same breath said the union did not endorse violent protests that placed patients' lives at risk.

"The incident was unplanned and had involved several unions. It's very difficult for us to take responsibility because we can't be sure it's our members. We have spoken to our members and encouraged them to apply other strategies [to protest]," he said.

Gauteng health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa said bonuses were delayed due to the financial challenges facing the department, which means it could only fund salaries and promotion-related pay increases in 2016/2017.

However, she said the destruction of hospital property, intimidation and threats to the lives of patients could not be justified.

"These acts are criminal, inhumane and of great concern. Police are expected to make arrests of the perpetrators," Ramokgopa said.

Last week Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi also condemned the wildcat strike and said the law must take its course against the people behind the destruction of hospital property. He labelled the striking workers "hooligans".

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