The Department of Health warned on Monday that any employee who fails to comply with the court order interdicting the current strike action will be committing an act of misconduct which is subject to disciplinary action, including possible dismissal.
This comes after the Labour Appeal Court issued a judgement that interdicts with immediate effect, strike action by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) members and employees who are employed in essential services.
Nehawu has been on industrial action since 6 March 2023 due to the collapsed wage negotiations, with threats to intensify the strike action.
Workers are demanding a 10% salary increase, while government has offered 4.7%.
“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 [is that] all managers are obliged to apply the principle of ‘no work, no pay’, and this should be applied with immediate effect,” Minister Joe Phaahla said during a late-night briefing.
The court order, he said, “unequivocally” calls on Nehawu leadership to inform and call on all their essential services members to return to work with immediate effect.
“In consideration of practicality we have given the workers in the health sector until tomorrow [Tuesday] morning to report to work, failing which they will be in contempt of court and liable to face charges of misconduct. “
He said there is no doubt that the strike has disrupted the provision of essential healthcare services in the country, leading to untold suffering and frustration among the public who desperately needed healthcare and life-saving treatment and other interventions at public health facilities.
Last Thursday, Phaahla announced that four people had died “in a manner that could be directly attributed to the strike”.
The court judgement, he said, concurs with the view that has always been 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 [the] Bill of Rights, whilst making provision of withdrawal of labour in general, however, it excluded essential services from this right.”
Meanwhile, he explained that to protect the rights of essential services workers, the law creates a 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 the leadership of Nehawu were oblivious to the provisions of our law in this regard.”
The department reiterated the call as stipulated in both the court order and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) circular, which draws from the decision of the Labour Appeal Court, which restrains and prevents essential healthcare workers to participate in any such strike, picket or any other form of industrial action.
The Minister also took the time to apologise to all South Africans who have experienced pain, humiliation and suffering because of the strike.
On Monday morning, Phaahla told the media that 20 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) nurses were deployed due to shortages caused by the industrial action.