21/03/2017 21:41 SAST | Updated 22/03/2017 09:56 SAST

We Will Intensify Strike, Says Nehawu After Baby Dies

It's not our fault, it's the department's job to ensure the care centres are staffed during a strike, says union.

Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza. On Wednesday, the MEC is expected to explain why a six-month-old baby girl died on Tuesday during a healthworkers' strike.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Bafana Mahlangu
Social Development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza. On Wednesday, the MEC is expected to explain why a six-month-old baby girl died on Tuesday during a healthworkers' strike.

The Gauteng government and the health workers' union did not discuss emergency staffing of child care centres during their strike.

More than 90 children were moved out of the state-run facilities into NGOs on Friday because strikers blockaded the care centres; on Tuesday a six-month-old baby girl died and the Gauteng Department of Social Development has said the move may have been a factor in her death. The situation follows weeks of public anger over the death of at least 100 psychiatric patients who were moved out of Gauteng state facilities into unregistered NGOs in order to save money.

"We've done nothing wrong. The blame should fall squarely on the department for not putting measures in place to avert any deaths in relation to the strike because they knew as early as February 10 that the strike was going to take place," said Khaya Xaba, the national spokesperson for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).

The blockade was for the picket line not to block people going into the care centres, he said.

Xaba said it was the department's prerogative and responsibility, as the employer, to put measures in place to ensure the facilities are staffed during a strike.

"There are mechanisms put in place for essential services. It's not the duty of Nehawu."

Xaba agreed that the children also have rights, and said they were supposed to get services from the department, not Nehawu. He said if the department's management had dealt with the workers' issues earlier, then the matter would have been resolved long ago.

"Remember, the strike was legal and every worker has the right to strike," he said.

Some of the healthworkers are classified as essential services, who are restricted from striking.

"We can't be striking and thinking on behalf of the department. It's not our duty to think on their behalf. We have to think. What we have to think about is workers; they have to think about essential services. So we can't think on their behalf."

No essential services staffing arrangement was in place and no discussion on this between the union and department on this.

"That was supposed to be initiated by them. If they don't come to us and initiate it, to us it means that they have a plan in place. That's what we thought."

"It's an unfortunate situation that should never have happened. We are very sorry it happened like that. But having said that, the strike is not going to end, we are going to intensify the strike."

"Because this move by the department to call a press conference tomorrow [Wednesday]: we see it as nothing but trying to get public sympathy."

Will Nehawu discuss with the department how to staff the care centres so that the children are not at risk? "We are always available for consultation or for negotiation. The ball is in their court. They are supposed to come to us, negotiate with us," said Xaba.

He described the department's planned media briefing on Wednesday as "they are looking for a fight".

The strike is a national dispute which started in August 2015, said Xaba. The workers want better pay, rural allowances, tools of the trade and for casual assistants to be employed by the public service. "They've not been willing to engage with us, instead they have treated us with sheer arrogance."

On February 10 workers marched to the Health Ministry and gave the minister five days to respond but did not get a response. The strike notice was issued on February 10 and the strike started on March 13, said Xaba.