Hospital chaos: Charlotte Maxeke workers claim victory ahead of meeting

01 June 2018 - 07:11 By Naledi Shange
Protesters invade Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
Protesters invade Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
Image: ALON SKUY

Sickly patients lined the seats of the casualty section of the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg on Thursday as porters‚ cleaners and nurses embarked on a strike‚ demanding they be paid performance bonuses for the last two years.

The workers were condemned for disrupting health services but a union leader claimed that their efforts had paid off. A meeting is due to be held on Friday to deal with the dispute.

One woman sat in the casualty section‚ dressed in a night gown‚ a breathing mask placed on her face as she waited for attention from skeleton staff.

"I don’t have a choice but to wait‚" a woman as she and a companion walked from the lifts back to the casualty section.

A patient navigates his way through the hallways of the protest-hit Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
A patient navigates his way through the hallways of the protest-hit Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
Image: ALON SKUY

A floor above them‚ a bed lay overturned in one of the small corridors. Half-eaten food‚ empty containers and patient documents had been strewn all over of what was meant to be a sterile floor where medical assistance was administered.

Some of the striking hospital workers donned blue breathing masks over their faces‚ protecting themselves from the germ-infested air.

Workers are protesting a long-pending dispute over unpaid performance bonuses. They say the hospital has made several empty promises.
Workers are protesting a long-pending dispute over unpaid performance bonuses. They say the hospital has made several empty promises.
Image: ALON SKUY

"We are sorry that you have to be part of this but these people are playing with us. We work hard and now they do not want to give us our own money‚" a nurse said to a patient in the lift on her way to another floor higher up in the hospital.

The patient sheepishly smiled‚ clutching a packet of chips and cold drink bought at the vending machine located on the filthy floor.

TimesLIVE had earlier observed patients‚ some in wheelchairs‚ who pushed themselves across the debris to reach the lifts and head to other floors. Some struggled to make their way past the debris as they had limbs in casts.

The SA Human Rights Commission had been summoned to the scene. TimesLIVE spoke to the commission’s Buang Jones‚ who arrived at the hospital with his colleagues to observe the situation.

"Patients’ rights are being violated and infringed. We understand and respect workers’ rights to exercise their rights to protest but it should not endanger patients’ lives‚" he said.

Litter strewn in the hallways of Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
Litter strewn in the hallways of Charlotte Maxeke Academic hospital in Johannesburg on May 31 2018.
Image: ALON SKUY

He described the situation as "deplorable"‚ saying the conditions were not at all conducive to administering healthcare. The SAHRC was willing to assist in mediation to ensure that the situation returned to normalcy as soon as possible.

Singing struggle songs‚ the striking workers‚ who are mostly affiliated to Nehawu‚ listened attentively as they were addressed by the union’s provincial chairperson Lulamile Sibanda. Sibanda announced victory to the workers.

"[The employer] wants to offer 100% payment for 2016/2017. They will play it through a special grant by June 2‚" he said‚ to the applause of the protesters.

However‚ he said the struggle was not yet over‚ as talks still needed to be held to ensure that they also received their 2017/2018 bonuses.

But hospital spokesperson Lungiswa Mvumvu would not confirm that a deal had been reached between the workers and the employer‚ saying that "feedback would come from the MEC‚" following a meeting scheduled to happen on Friday.

Mvumvu told TimesLIVE that for now‚ they had managed to contain the situation and convinced staff members to calm down. She said all patients needing urgent medical care had earlier on been sent to the nearby Helen Joseph Hospital.

Patients had been kept safe as they were locked in their wards along with their medical practitioners.

She explained that the trashed section of the hospital mostly catered for outpatients.

It was not immediately clear whether the hospital was to be fully operational on Friday as rocks‚ tree stumps and debris from an earlier fire still lined the tar road that led to the hospital’s entrance.


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