Court order halts Fort England pickets

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By ANELE MJEKULA

Fort England Psychiatric Hospital employees who have been calling for the axing of the hospital’s CEO Dr Roger Walsh, have been temporarily interdicted from engaging in any further picketing in the hospital premises, pending the court case.

Four unions and seven individuals have been named as respondents in a case heard in the Port Elizabeth Labour Court on Friday, 12 February.

Thando Mtshalala, Plaatjie, Z Kitsili, Stofile, Denzel Williams, Mvula and Ngosini are named as respondents in the matter together with the National Health Education and Allied Workers Union, National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, Public Servants Association of South Africa and Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa.

Eastern Cape Health Department MEC Pumza Dyantyi is the applicant in the court action. The respondents have until 23 February to respond to the interim interdict.

This follows calls from hospital employees to have Walsh removed.

Around 50 staff members gathered in the hospital grounds on 25 January, bearing placards reading ‘#Walsh Must Fall’ the day before a delegation from Dyantyi’s office was due to meet them.

In a petition to Dyantyi earlier last month, they accused Walsh of compromising staff safety by reducing the number of security guards employed at the hospital.

The number of guards at the hospital was reduced from 64 to 55. They accused Walsh of making this decision unilaterally. In a second complaint, they also claimed that he favoured whites when it came to employing people.

Speaking to Grocott’s Mail on Monday 15 February, Mtshalala said they had been told that their actions were unlawful.
“They say it is an illegal picket,” he said.

According to Mtshalala, there are allegations that some workers assaulted Walsh, after the picket turned violent.

“We don’t know how allowing Dr Walsh to walk right through our picket and not do anything to him can be seen to be violent. He walked right past us and went straight to his office, but there are allegations that we have assaulted him,” he said.
Mtshalala accused Walsh of provoking them when they were picketing.

“We don’t expect him to be at work between 1pm and 2pm because that’s his lunch hour. He just wanted to provoke us,” he said.
However, Mtshalala is adamant that they will challenge the interim court interdict.

“It is still an interim interdict, we must still respond to it. We will definitely respond, but we have sent the matter to our regional and provincial structures and they must still consult with our legal department and then respond,” he said.

Speaking to Grocott’s Mail on Monday, Walsh said the picketing was illegal because no dispute was declared with the bargaining council and no grievances were forwarded to him or to the head office as to what the action was about.

“It was just lunch-time picketing, but it became violent and aggressive, with some damage to property and assault against staff members and some intimidation of other employees,” he said.

Walsh said the group was still unwilling to try to resolve anything, despite invitations to come and discuss the issues.
“So I was told that I was not recognised as the CEO,” he said.

Walsh said he had no other option but to speak to his superiors.

Between him and the MEC’s office they agreed that he must take the route of getting a court interdict.

“I then went to see the state attorneys in Port Elizabeth and made an affidavit and they drew up the papers and they presented to the court last Friday,” Walsh said.

“The Judge awarded an interim court interdict to prevent certain named respondents and unions from engaging in illegal picketing activity,” he said.

Although it might not be the end of the process, Walsh says at least the picketing has stopped. He says according to procedure he has put up court documents to warn people that he is getting a court order and then he has to serve that court order on the employees concerned.

“So I have sent it to all the regional and provincial union offices and we have posted it around the hospital and given it to the employees concerned – all those who are at work, some have gone off sick,” he said.

There are also disciplinary measures outstanding, particularly against those who have allegedly damaged property and assaulted staff members, Walsh said.

“They may also face criminal charges. I’ve opened a case against a certain employee who has assaulted me, so we’ll see how that goes,” he said.

Walsh says he hopes the employees will get the right advice from their respective unions and follow the proper channels if they choose to continue with the pickets.

“I’m hoping they will take advice from their legal people in the unions and they will now start to utilise the proper mechanisms that have been put in place for dispute resolution.”

Walsh said the hospital is still functioning despite the current problems.

“The patients are still getting seen to properly and we continue doing outreach and awards, so it’s still okay. The patients matter most of all,” he said.

anele@grocotts.co.za

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