Maverick Citizen


Essential service staff must obey court ruling and get back to work, says Health Minister Joe Phaahla

Essential service workers in the health sector who fail to return to work by the morning of Tuesday, 14 March, will be committing an act of misconduct subject to disciplinary action, including possible dismissal, says Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla. This comes in the wake of the Labour Appeal Court ruling interdicting any further strike action from Nehawu, its members and employees in an essential service ‘with immediate effect’.

The National Department of Health has given essential service workers in the health sector until the morning of Tuesday, 14 March, to report to work. Those who fail to report will be in contempt of the Labour Appeal Court ruling issued on Monday that interdicted any further strike action from Nehawu, its members and employees in an essential service, and will be liable to face charges of misconduct.

This was according to a media briefing by Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla on Monday evening. Phaahla said that the ministry and the National Department of Health welcomed the Labour Appeal Court judgment.

“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,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Labour Appeal Court orders Nehawu to inform members of strike interdict or face legal consequences 

The strike, which began on 6 March, has seen surgeries cancelled, emergency services blocked and working healthcare staff intimidated. Nehawu had signalled its intention to continue the strike on Monday, 13 March, but elected to suspend the action for 72 hours in the wake of the Labour Appeal Court judgment. 

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The court order stated: “The strike action, picket, or any other form of industrial action by Nehawu, its members and employees who are employed in an essential service… 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 members who do not work in essential services or for certain agencies are permitted to strike, pending further legal action, according to a GroundUp report.


Phaahla said that all managers in health facilities were obliged to apply the principle of “no work, no pay” for staff with immediate effect. Essential workers who failed to comply with the court order could face dismissal. 

“My message to the leadership of Nehawu is to say that I think there’s been enough suffering, enough pain, enough frustrations amongst ordinary South Africans,” said Phaahla.

“One would appeal to them that, let’s bring this to an end. The door is open; the Public Service [Coordinating] Bargaining Council is proceeding. That’s a legally available forum through which all the issues which remain to be discussed should be ventilated.”

Phaahla had previously stated that the deaths of at least four people could be connected to the Nehawu wage strike. At Monday’s briefing, he said there had been no further reports of deaths as a result of the strike, adding that the department did not want to “elaborate further until we get full confirmation from the clinical staff”.

Military Health Service

The Department of Health first requested the assistance of the Military Health Service — doctors, nurses and other health professionals within the South African National Defence Force — on Tuesday, 7 March, said Phaahla.

“At the time… we were informed that the… Klerksdorp area [North West] was under quite a lot of stress when many of the health workers, especially the nurses, had not reported for duty. So, that’s the first area where we asked for deployment of the Military Health Service.”

Two days later, when the situation in Klerksdorp had stabilised, the department requested the military contingent be redeployed to assist in Gauteng.

“This was purely for medical support,” said Phaahla. “It was a small contingent but very helpful… especially for inpatients, those who were in the wards when there were no people to provide medication, to provide cleaning of patients, feeding of patients.”

The length of time for which the Military Health Service would assist in public health facilities was dependent on how soon the situation in those facilities stabilised, he said. DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Francois Smith says:

    It is probably fortunate for Phaahla that the police is also on strike. Otherwise the police could have done their job of seeing that people who want to work are allowed to and made an arrest or two for damage to property. Now this minister, who has a constitutional duty to look after all of the people of South Africa, is playing it tough by stating that the no-work-no-pay principle will be applied and must be applied. I think that is really tough, in fact it cannot be tougher for people whose actions resulted in the deaths of innocent people? Apart from losing a couple of days’ wages, when are we going to see the real tough action: Arrest for culpable homicide at least for every innocent patient who lost their lives during the strike? Can we not see to it that the Minister get into the dock for that?

  • virginia crawford says:

    Go back to work, or else what? We’ll ask you again, urge you? The real thugs in this mix need to meet some serious consequences: criminal charges and get fired.

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