A showdown between the Limpopo Health Department and labour unions is looming in the province. The unions, Nehawu, Denosa, Hospersa and the Public Servants Association, plan to down tools next week Monday.

Limpopo’s Health Department says the planned strike is illegal. The unions have served the department with a notice to strike on Monday next week. The unions are accusing the department of unilaterally changing the conditions of employment. This after the department issued a circular to cut down on overtime payments, changing the nurses roster and keeping shifts to 40 hours per week.

The Health Department says it has spent more than half a billion rand in overtime payments in the past two financial years. The Department also says that more than half of its R22 billion budget is spent on paying salaries. Head of Department, Dr Thokozani Mhlongo says they are spending millions of rands on what she refers to as bogus overtime.

Dr Thokozani Mhlongo on the strike:

Mhlongo also adds that the nurses’ roster, where they work seven days and get a similar number of days off, is not workable. She says this leaves health facilities with an inadequate number of workers. Mhlongo says some workers use the overtime claims to drain the coffers of the department.

“The looting cannot go on forever. I’m implementing 40 hours across the board, then I am challenged. Overtime is not an entitlement, overtime is based on needs by the employer. I have already identified the looting and I drew up a circular that seeks to curb the looting. I am saying that cannot happen, yes it’s going hurt in some people’s pockets because people were already used to siphoning through this bogus overtime.”

Mhlongo says the pending strike is illegal. She says that workers in the health sector are providing essential services, and can therefore not go on strike.

“Our employees must not be confused that this strike remains unprotected in terms of the labour relations act. This sector has been designated as an essential service and employees on this sector are therefore prohibited from embarking on strike action and the employer will be entitled to employ the rule of no work no pay.”

The strike by the labour unions in the Health Department is likely going to cripple health facilities in the province. The unions are however steadfast. They say their planned strike will go ahead on Monday next week.