Another probe at Fort England


An advocate will by tomorrow (Wednesday) start an investigation into grievances at Fort England Hospital and certain staff will be transferred away from the institution. This is the Department of Health’s response after protests that erupted three weeks ago resumed on Monday 8 July.

Labour relations officers from the Eastern Cape Department of Health met with representatives of the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) at Fort England Hospital on Thursday 20 June. This followed two days of picketing by Nehawu members outside the hospital’s main administration block, demanding the removal of a senior manager and citing several grievances.

Meanwhile, a confidential letter sent to the Department’s provincial office alleged intimidation of some staff by a group of current and former employees. The letter sent 18 June expressed critical concern for the well-being and safety of staff and patients at the level 3 psychiatric facility.

Yesterday a group of around 20 people toyi-toyied on the front verandah of the hospital’s main administration block around midday. Among them was Nehawu’s Fort England Branch Secretary Phakamisa Soxujwa. When Grocott’s Mail approached him, he shook his head, “saying, “We have nothing to say. There is no comment.”

A fellow protester made kicking and shooing gestures in the direction of this reporter, saying, “Voertsek!”

Grocott’s Mail understands that meals and ward routines were disrupted as a result of the protest, which resumed after a break for lunch yesterday. However, the Health Department did not confirm this.

Speaking to Grocott’s Mail last night, Health Department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the Department was at that stage unable to confirm the extent of the industrial action and that it was illegal.

“The workers have agreed to stop,” he said. This was on the basis of a process that involves the compilation of a report and the transfer to other institutions all the staff at the centre of the allegations and counter-allegations.

Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba had given the deadline of two weeks for the compilation of a report detailing all the allegations, Manana said. This would be carried out by an advocate and the person to lead such an independent inquiry would be from outside the Department.

Second, Manana said, would be the possible transfer of those involved in either side of the conflict way from the institution.

“That’s where we are now,” Manana said. “Stability is paramount.”

Neither Nehawu nor the Democratic Nurses Association of SA (Denosa) is formally involved in this week’s protests.

Nehawu Deputy Regional Secretary Khonaye Gxaleka on Tuesday morning 9 July confirmed that Monday’s strike and protest had not been part of any formal industrial action.

“I don’t know anything about that. I have absolutely no knowledge of this industrial action,” Gxaleka told Grocott’s Mail in a telephone interview.

Denosa Provincial Secretary Khaya Sodidi said he’d heard about the action; however, because it concerned non-clinical staff, his union had not been involved.

“This industrial action is being led by Nehawu [members],” Sodidi said. “These are non-clinical staff and we don’t represent this category.

“We will support each other for a good cause, such as improved patient care, or if it;’s for the community’s benefit, but generally when it comes to administrative issues, Nehawu, PSA and Hospersa would be involved.”

Along with allegations of race-based discrimination and harassment, the whistleblower letter expresses the fear that staff will once again be forced out of the institution by union action.

The removal of Roger Walsh from his position as the hospital’s chief executive, as a result of union action in 2015 and 2016, made headlines. In February this year, a Labour Court judgment on Walsh’s appeal against his removal held that unions and their officials had unlawfully hounded Walsh from his post and the hospital. It held that the Department of Health’s failure at that time to respond appropriately to unlawful union action had set a dangerous precedent.

  • Article updated 9 July 2019 at 10.45am to include comment from Newhawu and Denosa.

This article uses material from previous articles which can be read in full here:

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