Charlotte Maxeke hospital protest in 2018 a human rights violation: SAHRC
The actions of staff at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, who embarked on a strike in May 2018, were tantamount to a human rights violation as they denied a considerable number of patients the right to access health-care services.
Protests at the hospital, which erupted on May 31 2018, were due to a serious communication breakdown between the Gauteng department of health and employees, and these conditions put the delivery of health-care services to the public at risk.
These findings were released by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) two years and four months after striking hospital staff brought parts of the hospital to a standstill and left facilities damaged and in a mess.
The commission initiated its own investigation to get clarity on the events of that day, what led to them, and what could be done going forward.
The commission said events on that day appeared to be the result of a long-simmering dispute between hospital workers and the department over wage increases and non-payment of bonuses.
The commission said it established a panel to hear submissions from representatives of the department, the hospital, two labour organisations representing hospital workers and the police.
It said despite the legitimate frustrations of those staff members responsible for shutting down and blocking access to the hospital, it found they acted outside their right to assemble and protest.
The commission said these staff members had other avenues to air their legitimate grievances.
Fertile ground for unrest
The commission said the department's failure to adequately respond to the workers' grievances created fertile ground for the unrest on May 31.
It said the steps taken by police on the day to quell the unrest seemed to be proportionate and necessary under the circumstances.
The commission said the leadership of the National Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) made efforts throughout the disruptions to broker a solution and prevent disorder.
It directed the department, the hospital workforce and labour structures to undertake a joint programme of reconciliation to create a more conducive environment for communication and problem-solving.
It also directed the health department to create guidelines for future protest-related disruptions to health-care services.
The commission said Nehawu should provide a report to the commission on the outcomes of its undertaking to train shop stewards and sensitise its members to their burden of care when dealing with legitimate grievances.
The commission said the police should implement a proactive public disclosure mechanism on protest-related incidents that it reports to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to ensure public transparency on these matters.