The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) embarked on a nationwide strike a week ago and the effect on the health sector has been challenging. The department of health has lauded healthcare professionals who continue to work despite the difficulties, however, if the strike is not ended soon, consequences will be dire.
According to Foster Mohale, spokesperson for the national department of health, the situation has been chaotic since last week in some of the most affected provinces, including Mpumalanga, Gauteng, KZN, the Eastern Cape, and certain areas of the Free State.
He states that many organisations responded to calls for assistance from concerned citizens by cleaning the hospitals, assisting patients with pottery, and preparing meals, as it has been challenging for hospital cooks to be able to go to work.
Participation from the Western Cape’s in the strike was reported, says Mohale, however, recent reports indicate that things are again under control.
“This is a challenging period in the health department nationwide; we have advised certain hospitals to discharge those with less complex issues until this struggle is over,” Mohale explains.
Four people are thought to have died “in a way that might be directly related to the strike”, health minister Dr Joe Phaahla’s said in a statement last week.
In that regard, Mohale says since the incident is still being looked into, they are unable to comment on the alleged deaths from the strike. He says that due to its initial sensitivity, they would collect information and provide anything concrete later.
Mohale expressed his appreciation for the healthcare professionals who continue to work despite the difficulties. He goes on to state that some people do manage to work and that they put in extra effort and work longer hours.
“We wish this could cease right now, but regrettably we are unable to predict when it will stop since other public sector unions are joining Nehawu in chanting the same tune,” adds Mohale.
How will the strikers fare?
In a statement made by the national health department, the minister of health, Dr Joe Phaahla, emphasised that those who are found to have created disruptions would be reprimanded, and those who do not work will not be paid.
On Monday morning, as Phaahla visited the Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital on the East Rand, members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) monitored access points at the hospital.
The facility was severely affected last week, reports Business Day. “All our outpatient departments were closed, the entire therapeutic section was closed and, unfortunately, the theatre had to close because we had no staff. Maternity was also closed,” Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital CEO Dr Michael Malaka told Business Day.
The Nehawu strike, which is now in its second week, is having a particularly negative impact on the hospital.
This week, several unionised employees quit their jobs in protest of their demand for a 10% pay raise.
The government maintained their 3% offer for the financial year 2022–2023, and the union promised to step up its walkout this week.
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