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03 Jul 2009 15:46
Western Cape doctors on Friday agreed to call off their strike and go back to work, but are still not happy with the government’s pay offer.
This followed the return on Friday morning of their colleagues in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We have called off the current action and asked people to go back to work, which is exactly what has happened,” said South African Medical Association (Sama) Western Cape chairperson Mark Sonderup.
He said there were two meetings on Friday in Cape Town, at Tygerberg Hospital and Groote Schuur.
At both meetings, the doctors were asked to indicate by a show of hands how they felt about the wage offer.
“The sentiment is overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting the offer on the table,” Sonderup said.
However, in terms of bargaining processes, they still had to vote in secret on the proposals, so that a national Sama position could be established.
This would be done online, before July 25, which marked the expiry of 21 days from the government’s signed offer.
If the offer was rejected, the doctors would like to see a process of mediation and arbitration.
Western Cape health minister Theuns Botha welcomed the doctors’ decision to call off the strike, saying health services could now “get back on track”.
He said the doctors had instead decided to demonstrate their protest “along the channels and procedures available to them”.
Though Western Cape doctors have been on strike only since last Friday, the KwaZulu-Natal strikers had downed tools for almost two weeks.
“All doctors have returned to work except those who were supposed to be off,” said KwaZulu-Natal health department spokesperson Chris Maxon earlier in the day.
Public relations officers for Durban’s three big hospitals reported all their doctors had returned to work.
Addington, Prince Mshiyeni Memorial and King Edward VIII were hardest hit by the doctors’ strike as they had to turn away patients.
Dr Cameron McIntosh and Dr Thandeka Mazibuko, leaders of the KwaZulu-Natal strike, said they were at work on Friday and that doctors had returned to work.
Provincial health minister Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo on Friday morning called on all striking doctors, including 276 fired doctors, to return to work.
Striking doctors agreed to suspend the strike on Thursday after Congress of South African Trade Unions president Sdumo Dlamini promised to make sure fired doctors would be reinstated.
A meeting was held on Thursday night between Dhlomo, Dlamini and doctors’ representatives where a decision was taken to reinstate all fired doctors.
Dhlomo said the department had rescinded all the letters of dismissal it issued on Monday. The letters were served after doctors defied a Durban Labour Court interim interdict compelling them to return to work.
The Thursday night meeting was cordial and handled in a mature manner, said Maxon.
All parties acknowledged that doctors’ and health officials’ pay was not satisfactory, he said.
“This, combined with the staff shortages and other conditions place a heavy burden on the shoulders of the doctors and other health officials.”
All parties had also acknowledged the strike was unprocedural.
“The parties acknowledged that the strike caused untold hardships and seriously inconvenienced the public who relied on the provision of the essential service by the doctors,” said Maxon.
The Western Cape strikers had vowed not to go back to work unless their KwaZulu-Natal colleagues were reinstated.
The African National Congress (ANC) had earlier urged doctors to return to work.
“Against a background of global recession, the ANC-led government has shown commitment to address the doctors’ wage dispute by coming up with an affordable offer,” ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said in a statement.
She said that while the party empathised with the striking doctors, public health care and patients suffered as a result of the strike.—Sapa
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