Emergency services chaos

Mkhululi Ndamase

THE Eastern Cape illegal emergency services workers’ strike enters its ninth day today after the provincial Health Department and unions failed to reach agreement at a meeting in Bhisho yesterday.

Paramedics, ambulance drivers, administration staff and cleaners first went on strike in East London last Monday, but it soon spread to Nelson Mandela Bay and elsewhere, leaving patients around the province stranded.

They are striking over money owing, danger pay and overtime allowances.

A verbal agreement was reached last Wednesday, with unions – the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) and the Public Servants’ Association of South Africa (PSA) – expected to make it official yesterday.

However, PSA provincial manager Piet van Aardt said they were still waiting for a response from their members.

“We circulated last week’s agreement to all our members, so we are still waiting for them to accept it.

“We will only sign it after consultation with our members,” he said.

Van Aardt said they were encouraging their members to go back to work.

“My understanding is that some have gone back to work. We do not blame the members because over the years the department has neglected their workers.

“But we are encouraging them to go back to work,” he said.

Hospersa national spokeswoman Michelle Connolly said the meeting would continue tomorrow.

“You will remember that the meeting was meant to discuss emergency services workers’ issues, but two other unions joined the negotiations and raised nursing issues. The meeting continues [tomorrow] and Hospersa hopes that the agreement will be signed,” Connolly said.

“There will be a Cosatu march to Bhisho [today] and Hospersa is not part of it.”

Nehawu provincial secretary Xolani Malamlela could not be reached for comment last night. Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo confirmed tomorrow’s meeting.

“We have agreed with the unions to set up a task team that will make sure all legitimate claims are paid.

“A document will be signed that will serve as a guideline tool on how to go about paying. We continue to engage with the unions to find an amicable agreement.

“We are committed to paying and we are doing everything in our power to minimise and bring the strike to an end. We are not happy with the progress that we have made because of lack of proper paperwork,” Kupelo said. “Only legitimate claims will be paid out. It is unfortunate that they decided to go on an illegal strike because there is money available.

“We have paid out R9-million already. The principle of no work, no pay will apply.”

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