KZN Health seeks court order for striking doctors

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pietermaritzburg - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has sought a court order, forcing doctors participating in an illegal strike, to get back to work or face dismissal.

"We are preparing a court interdict for those who remain out of work. This situation is untenable. We cannot continue to put the lives of our people in danger and the government will act. It is becoming clearer that this strike action is deeper than the eye can see," Provincial Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said on Friday.

He said the department had served all doctors, dentists and pharmacists early on Friday morning with an ultimatum to resume duties not later than 8am, on the day.

"We, as the Department of Health, are designated as an essential service provider and therefore find the action of these health professionals disrupting service delivery and compromising patients lives," Dr Dhlomo said.

He said since Monday, more than 90 percent of provincial doctors, including dentists and some pharmacists, have been out on the streets despite the public information that talks between government and the South African Medical Association would resume on Wednesday.

He said a visit by him and Provincial Premier, Zweli Mkhize, to Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine on Tuesday to speak to Dean of Faculty, Proffesor Sturm, and all heads of departments to raise their concerns regarding the unprotected strike and it consequences, didn't yield positive results.

"In that meeting, it became apparent that heads of department were not only unable to persuade the registrars and all health professionals to return to work, but they themselves appeared to be sympathetic to this unprotected strike," he said.

Dr Dhlomo said some doctors and their leadership had welcomed government's revised offer to increase the doctors' salaries to up to 60 percent on Wednesday.

However, certain groups of doctors have continued to undermine the process of negotiations and claim to have consulted widely about this package and that it is insufficient.

"The Premier instructed me to once more speak to the Dean, Prof Sturm and the heads of department,which I did, but the outcome of that meeting did not yield any positive results.

"SAMA leadership in KwaZulu-Natal was also met and good progress was made to collectively understand the status of the Bargaining Council process," MEC Dhlomo explained.

He said in view of the situation, the department has complied with Labour Relations Act, which among other things, guides them that participation in a strike that does not comply with the Act is a form of misconduct.

"We think we have been more than reasonable, while dealing with an unprotected strike. We have met with various relevant stakeholders including union representatives in trying to resolve the situation and consulted widely with all quarters.

"We have continuously reminded them that the consequences of this unprotected strike have far reaching negative outcomes to the health of people in the province. Lives have been lost, our people have been turned away from hospitals because of the absence of doctors," he said.

Meanwhile, the South African National Defence Force has since been deployed to help the hospitals.