HOSPERSA POSED FOR NETCARE STRIKE WHILE INTIMIDATION SURGES
5 April 2017
The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is posed to embark on nationwide strike action at Netcare Hospitals all over the country. This is happening while the Union is receiving increasing reports of intimidation of employees by Netcare managers, as an attempt to coerce them to accept the salary offer. Hospersa is calling Netcare’s intimidatory behaviour unconstitutional and against the spirit of international best practice when it comes to employee relations. The Union is conducting a nationwide strike ballot tomorrow and Friday in order to obtain a fresh mandate to strike.
Hospersa, which is the majority trade union at Netcare, is embroiled in a bitter wage dispute with the private hospital group. Netcare’s final offer is 6% while Hospersa’s mandate from members is at 8%, and tomorrow and Friday will see a nationwide strike ballot taking place.
Already at the start of negotiations this year, it became evident that parties would deadlock. Netcare remained inflexible and unwilling to pay an increase reflective of their reported profit, opening negotiations with an initial offer of a mere 4,75% increase for all general workers, and a below-inflation 5,2% increase for Registered Nurses. Netcare also failed to improve on its medical subsidy offer of 4% against the Hospersa’s demand of 11%.
“We note that Netcare argues that their offer is fair, but our members feel the pinch of rising prices which continue to diminish their earnings,” said Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines. “This effect becomes even greater when one looks at recent developments around a weaker rand which will decrease consumer spending power even more. It is for these reasons that we have remained committed to a wage increase of 8% and a medical aid subsidy of 11%,” he added.
When negotiations deadlocked, Hospersa referred the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Due to Netcare’s inflexible approach the CCMA process also failed to resolve the matter, after which Hospersa called for a ballot. The results of this ballot were overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting Netcare’s offer and embarking on strike action.
However, Netcare questioned the ballot results and, knowing the seriousness of an unprotected strike, Hospersa decided to do another ballot.
“We will never put our members’ livelihoods at risk,” said Desfontaines. “It is important to understand that an unprotected strike could result in our members being charged with misconduct which could lead to various problems and even dismissal,” he said.
However, Hospersa soon received reports that Netcare was engaging in foul play. While the Union was busy with ballot preparations, Netcare reportedly engaged our members individually and collectively to try and convince them to break ranks and accept their 6% offer. Netcare also employed scare tactics such as threatening no work, no pay for striking workers.
“While Hospersa understands and respects the principle of no work, no pay, it can never be used to undermine the constitutional right of workers to strike,” said Desfontaines. “Our members know this principle very well, and they know that the right of withholding labour is balanced by the employer’s right to withhold pay,” he added.
By far the most unfounded tactic used by Netcare is that of the implementation date. Netcare is on record that it was warning members who do not accept their 6% offer, that they would only be paid the increase later and that there would be no back-pay. This scare tactic unfortunately worked in some cases with some individuals and even some of Hospersa’s sister unions opting for the easy way out.
“This is an argument not based on fact,” said Desfontaines. “Our current [Organisational Rights] Agreement with Netcare clearly states that the implementation date will be on the 1st of March every year unless otherwise agreed,” Desfontaines cited. “We intend to take this matter for arbitration as it is clearly a dispute of right, and we will ensure that all Hospersa members receive their back-pay once the strike process is finalised,” he warned.
Some unscrupulous managers reportedly even went so far as lying to members, telling them that they will immediately get their increase if they resign from Hospersa. This is a very serious form of intimidation which goes against the core principles of the Constitution and International Labour Standards (ILS) as prescribed by the United Nations (UN) agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“We note this behaviour of Netcare with great concern, and we have formally reported it to Netcare management,” said Desfontaines. “We will table all these matters once the dust has settled after the strike,” he said.
Hospersa issued a newsletter to brief members on the history of the matter, and also utilised all its social media platforms to popularise the strike ballots taking place at Netcare facilities tomorrow (13:00-20:00) and Friday (8:00-13:00).
“It is crucial that we now receive a clear mandate. If we want to strike, it is important to show our collective power and resilience so that Netcare will take us seriously – for this dispute as well as for future engagements,” Desfontaines concluded.
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For interviews please contact Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines – 083-321-4427.
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