Health sector labour unions in Limpopo, including Hospersa, Denosa, and Nehawu, have expressed dissatisfaction following the introduction of a new working roster for nurses.

The Health Department says the newly drafted roster is meant to ease the burden on nurses, however, unions are unhappy with the new working hours, saying nurses will not flexible enough.

The unions say there are future plans to engage in mass industrial action.

The labour unions in the health sector in the province are accusing the Health Department of making changes to the nurses’ roster without consulting them.

One of the unions, Hospersa says this is an attempt by the government to overburden the already strained nursing sector.

Hospersa and Denosa say the department has also failed to start processes of appointing new nurses, in a bid to address the challenges of a shortage of staff. Its chairperson Bongani Ngwena says changing the roster abruptly is unconstitutional.

“This is not a proposal. To us, it is a directive. We are not happy about that because you cannot plan by drafting unconstitutional, they are coming with something that we don’t know where does it come from, none of these explanations they went for amendment of review.”

The new roster by the department is expected to be implemented across all public health facilities by April. The unions say they were informed about the redrafting of the previous roster in December. In the previous roster, nurses were expected to work a total shift of 48 hours per week and rest for two days.

In the new version, unions are concerned that nurses will not be given enough rest time and will be expected to finish a shift as late as two o’clock in the morning in certain instances. Denosa says there is a plan to completely down tools. Provincial spokesperson Jacob Molepo says preparations are underway.

“We are busy with the preparations for the mass action but the outcome of our engagements with the department will determine whether there is a need to proceed we hope and believe that the department will allow us space to present our frustrations and also our inputs in terms of our interest with the new duty roster, because what we want we want the department to allow to submit our input.”

The spokesperson of the Health Department in Limpopo Neil Shikwambana says there were efforts to include unions in the health sector during the process to introduce the new roster for nurses.

“The previous way that we were rostering them actually burdened them so we realised there is a need for us to improve on how we are rostering our workers these are not some draconian rules we are bringing to the fore, they are guided by the law, organised labour seemed not to be interested in discussions but to force us to rescind these improvements but we had said we cannot do this unless labour unions listened to our reasons.”

In the meantime, the unions have expressed concern on the growing number of nurses infected with COVID-19. Denosa says just above twenty nurses have so far died.

The unions say they will await the relaxation of the COVID-19 alert levels before engaging in a mass protest action.