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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Striking workers block hospital entrances

Striking health workers were blocking the entrances to several hospitals in Gauteng on Thursday as a nationwide public servants strike entered its second day.

"We know the unions threatened a total blockage," said Gauteng health spokesman Mandla Sidu.

"We yesterday (Wednesday) already spoke to CEOs to make sure they work closely with the police. Should the need arise, they will call in the police to remove people."

He said he had received reports of striking workers blocking the entrance to Weskoppies psychiatric hospital in Pretoria, while SABC radio reported that the same was happening at Helen Joseph hospital in Johannesburg.

Sidu could not confirm a radio report that five people had died at Tembisa hospital on Wednesday due to the strike.

But he said two babies died in the neo-natal unit of Natalspruit hospital on Wednesday.

"We are not yet certain whether it is due to the strike," said Sidu.

A countrywide public servants strike started on Wednesday, with several more unions joining in the mass action on Thursday.

The 200 000-strong Public Servants Association, affiliated to the Independent Labour Caucus (ILC), and the 72 000-strong health union Hospersa, were set to start striking on Thursday.

Members of the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) and the National Health and Allied Workers' Union - aligned to the Cosatu - stayed away from work, shutting down schools in several areas countrywide.

Other unions were still asking their members if they wanted to join the labour action.

If all the public service unions affiliated to Cosatu and the ILC decide to strike, it would mean some 1.3 million public servants would stay away from work.

Hospitals had put in place contingency plans, while courts seemed unable to function properly as stenographers, interpreters and clerks took part in the strike.

The government had offered a 7 percent salary hike and a R700 housing allowance while unions were demanding 8.6 percent and R1000.

"As government, we have demonstrated for all to see that our capacity to afford is exhausted," Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi said on Wednesday.

"If you talk of an envelope, we have not emptied it, we have broken it." - Sapa

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