Nehawu withdraws court case against health department over protective gear

The urgent court case by the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union over protective gear for healthcare workers was withdrawn late on Tuesday night, with Nehawu saying it would instead meet the health minister today (April 8).

Nehawu had gone urgently to the labour court saying the health and lives of healthcare workers were at risk because they were not being provided with personal protective equipment for Covid-19. In an affidavit, the union’s secretary general Zola Saphetha listed hospitals and clinics around the country at which he said there were shortages of protective gear. 

Sapthetha also said attempts by the union to have discussions with Health Minister Zweili Mkhize, his department and the provincial health departments had been “rebuffed”.

But in an answering affidavit, Mkhize disputed the claims saying Saphetha was not aware of the facts on the ground. The minister said he had checked each province and every hospital Saphetha had referred to and “in each case, comprehensive data has been produced, which disproves the claims made by Nehawu”.

Mkhize also disputed that he had rebuffed the union’s attempts to meet him, saying that a meeting had in fact been scheduled for Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, the labour court’s Judge Benita Witcher heard — in a virtual hearing on Skype — an application by Nehawu for a postponement. The union’s counsel, Sesi Baloyi SC, said the union needed more time to draft a replying affidavit, because it had to consult its members around the country.

Her postponement application was opposed by Mkhize’s counsel, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, who said it was highly prejudicial to the minister. He said four health department officials had to stop what they were doing in addressing the pandemic to be with him at the hearing in case he needed to consult them. Colin Kahanovitz SC, counsel for the Western Cape Health MEC, also said that the time taken to meet lawyers was time taken away from saving lives.

Witcher granted the postponement. But late on Tuesday night Nehawu wrote to the judge saying it would withdraw its application and instead meet the minister.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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