Media Statement by Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla regarding the ongoing strike by NEHAWU
The Ministry and Department of Health welcome the Labour Appeal Court judgment delivered earlier today regarding the ongoing strike by the trade union, NEHAWU.
I take this opportunity to think my colleagues, the former Acting Minister and the current Minister, for pursuing this matter in the courts relentlessly in protection of the vulnerable members of the community who depend solely on the public health services.
There is no doubt that the strike has disrupted provision of essential healthcare services in the country, leading to untold suffering and frustrations amongst the public who desperately needed healthcare and life-saving treatment and other interventions in the public health facilities.
The court judgement concurs with the view that always being held by the Ministry and the Department that essential services workers are prohibited from engaging in disruptive industrial action which is detrimental to healthcare services with a risk of loss of life, as provided by the Labour Relations Act.
It is for this reason that Parliament enacted this Act in line with Bill of Rights, whilst making provision of withdrawal of labour in general, however, it excluded essential services from this right. In order to protect rights of essential services workers, the law creates mechanism for deadlock breaking through mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
It is regrettable that this strike action has gone on causing untold hardship, pain, frustration and possible loss of life in its cause while it could have been avoided. It is inconceivable that leadership of NEWAHU were oblivious to the provisions of our law in this regard.
The court order unequivocally calls on NEHAWU leadership to inform and call on all their essential services members to return to work with immediate effect. In con sideration of practicality we have given the workers in the health sector until tomorrow morning to report to work, failing which they will be in contempt of court and liable to face charges of misconduct.
The Department reiterates this call as stipulated both in the court order and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) Circular No 11 of 2023, which draws from the decision of the Labour Appeal Court which orders as follows:
The strike action, picket, or any other form of industrial action by NEHAWU, its members and employees who are employed in an essential service, as defined in section 61(1) (d) of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995, which commenced on 6 March 2023 is interdicted with immediate effect and NEHAWU and all such essential service employees are restrained and prevented from continuing with or participating in any such strike, picket or any other form of industrial action.
NEHAWU is ordered to inform its members and officials and all persons to whom it had given notice of the strike in every province, including but not limited to every hospital and clinic in South Africa at which it has members within essential services, of the order of this Court, through publication on social media, by email and by all other appropriate means available to it, by no later than 13h00 on Monday 13 March 2023.
As already indicated any employee who fails to comply with the court order will be committing act of misconduct subject to disciplinary action, including possible dismissal.
Any person committing any criminal acts in pursuit of the strike action will be subjected to criminal proceedings by the law enforcement agencies. Over and above, what is stated all managers are obliged to apply the principle of 'no work, no pay', and this should be applied with immediate effect.
We urge all the workers in the health sector as defined in the court order to report to their workplace tomorrow morning.
Lastly, we would like to apologize to all South Africans who have had pain, humiliation and suffering as a result of the strike.