The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) went ahead with strike action on Monday despite an interdict. On Saturday, the Labour Court granted an interdict to the Department of Public Service and Administration preventing public servants from embarking on an indefinite strike. But, after conferring with Nehawu’s legal team on Sunday, the union decided to appeal the interdict and go ahead with the strike today.
“In this regard, we wish to confirm that the union has filed the application for leave to appeal at 15H30 to give a go ahead to our strike commencing tomorrow morning, the 6th March 2023 until the leave to appeal is determined,” reads the statement from the union.
The secretary of the union in Western Cape, Baxolise Mali, says they have embarked on strike action in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, George and Knysna.
In Khayelitsha in Cape Town, the workers went around government workplaces mobilising other workers to join the strike. They started at the Khayelitsha District Hospital, where most of Nehawu’s members are based, and proceeded to the local Home Affairs office, to Michael Maphongwana Community Health Centre, to the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s office and to the Social Development offices in Kuyasa.
The workers are demanding a 10% wage increase, R2,500 housing allowance, permanent absorption of community careworkers, and filling of vacancies.
“In real terms, the workers only get R900 from the housing allowance and when we inquire about the remaining R300, we are told that it gets invested through PIC [Public Investment Corporation]. Most of the public servants cannot get home loans because they are in debt. They do not qualify for an RDP house and the only time they can buy themselves a house is when they retire and by then they cannot enjoy their houses as they are near death,” said Mali.
Mali said that the long queues that people see at different Home Affairs offices in Cape Town is a result of the freezing of posts.
When delivering his budget speech and responding to the public sector workers, the Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana disputed the claim that it is an austerity budget.
During his budget speech last month, the former general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers Union of South Africa and now the minister of finance, Enoch Godongwana said an offer of 4.7% was made to public servants.
Most of the striking workers were hesitant to speak to the media as they fear intimidation at work.
“Even the 4.7% offer is never going to be enough as we are struggling already and most of us are in debt because of the high cost of living,” said Nobuhle Ndzala, a nurse at Michael Maphongwana Community Health Centre. “We are being called to go back to work, because we are not under Nehawu. I am under Denosa [Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa] but we all have one cry so we joined today’s strike,” said Ndzala
Funeka Liwani, a healthcare worker based at the Khayelitsha District Hospital said that many public sector workers find themselves in mental health institutions due to debt. “I was hospitalised for three months for depression because of being in debt. Most of us cannot afford to send our children to good schools, we struggle to afford basic needs because we are in debt,” she said.
“Frontline workers were praised during the Covid-19 pandemic and now this feels like betrayal because our wages are not a living wage,” expressed Anton de Jong.
The strike is ongoing.