People’s Health Movement withdraws from NEHAWU

Anger at failure of union to “distance itself” from hospital protests that endangered patient lives

Photo of garbage in corridor

Garbage was strewn all over Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital’s corridors on Thursday. Photo: Zoë Postman

By Eryn Scannell

1 June 2018

The People’s Health Movement, South Africa (PHMSA) has withdrawn its membership from the National Health Education and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) Health Subcommittee. This comes after NEHAWU did not condemn violent protests at hospitals in North West Province in early May and at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg this week.

Protest action forced hospitals in North West Province to shut down in early May. On Thursday a violent protest disrupted Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.

“Reports state that patients have been threatened, chased from the pharmacy, and locked in the basement. Surgical operations have been cancelled [at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital],” said PHMSA.

PHMSA emailed NEHAWU on 24 April and 11 May expressing concern about protests at hospitals with no response from NEHAWU. PHMSA said it “supports the right of health workers to take strong, even disruptive industrial action to improve wages and working conditions.” It said that the Labour Relations Act makes health workers “vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their right to strike”.

But, PHMSA said, “We do not … condone violence, nor action that endangers the lives of vulnerable people.”

PHMSA said it did not see “any report of NEHAWU distancing itself from these, or from the reported earlier actions, nor of disciplinary steps being taken”. PHMSA decided to distance “itself from any acts by NEHAWU that causes harm to the health of vulnerable people and to people’s health more broadly”.

GroundUp previously reported that NEHAWU released a statement on Thursday that indicated it had no control over the protests. “NEHAWU in the Gauteng Province has been helplessly observing sporadic actions in different facilities of the Gauteng Department of Health … over the past three days,” the union said. “These actions have led to the intimidation of staff and patients and compromised service delivery.”

NEHAWU blamed the provincial health department for its “lacklustre response” to demands handed to it on 16 March. The union urged the department to pay the bonuses to avoid further disruption of services.

GroundUp was unable to get further comment from NEHAWU specific to the PHM statement.