Labour Court grants order against striking doctors

Monday, April 27, 2009

Johannesburg - The Gauteng Health Department has obtained an interdict against doctors taking part in an illegal strike.

The Labour Court granted the order in favour of the department, saying that all doctors are restrained from participating the strike action which has been found unlawful.

The order urges doctors to return to their workstations immediately and striking doctors will be held liable for costs incurred by government in relation to its legal expenses.

Certain doctors in some of the provincial hospitals embarked on an unprotected strike two weeks ago demanding to be paid their Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD).

Head of Gauteng Health Department Sybil Ngcobo said government decided to act against the doctors when it appeared that all avenues to engage constructively and procedurally correctly were not bearing any fruit.

"The doctors' decision to go on strike was sudden and was inconsiderate of the needs of critical patients and was also inconsistent with known codes in the profession," Ms Ngcobo said on Saturday.

She said there had been repeated failed efforts to constructively engage the doctors.

"We have decided to offer the doctors an opportunity to return to work immediately, failing which we will be obliged to institute disciplinary action," Ms Ngcobo warned.

The decision to get an interdict against the doctors' illegal actions was in the interest of patients and communities, she said, adding that the department would also report each and every doctor involved in an illegal strike to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

Government is currently engaged in a process to dramatically improve the working conditions of all health care professionals working in the public service, particularly on remuneration, career-pathing.

Government has already implemented vastly improved dispensation for nurses, however, during this process it encountered many problems, for example some nurses were being over paid and they had to pay back the extra money.

According to national Department of Health spokesperson Fidele Hadebe, in order to avoid these kinds of problems, the department spent a lot of time to ensure accurate and correct decisions as it addresses the concerns of the doctors and other categories of health care professionals.

"We understand the frustration caused by the delays in the implementation of this dispensation and for that reason we have been working non-stop to ensure that we have an amicable resolution," he said.

The Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council has met where proposals were discussed, including the concerns of the doctors.

On Friday, the National Health Department resumed negotiations, where the department presented a set of proposals for consideration by labour representatives who will now go back to their constituencies for further consideration and mandate.

During the negotiations, doctors were represented in the bargaining council by their recognised legitimate body, the South African Medical Association.

Health Minister Barbara Hogan has said the processes will be concluded as a matter of urgency.

"This will once more demonstrate our commitment to work-place democratic processes of finding challenges that confront our professionals", Minister Hogan said last week.

The department has reiterated its commitment to giving the fullest possible recognition, support and remuneration to the health professionals working in the South African public health service.

The department has also acknowledged the challenges facing all health professionals, including medical doctors, relating in particular to remuneration and their general working conditions.