Giving a temporary order returnable this Friday, Industrial Court Justice, Tebogo Maruping said that it was necessary to interdict the workers while government and the unions come to a clear understanding of their agreement on what minimum service means. The order followed an urgent application by the government through Attorney Parks Tafa of Collins and Newman.
He said from the applicant's submissions the parties had agreed that essential services would continue to be provided and performed and that minimum services would be provided but that it was unclear to the court what minimum service meant.
"The fact that 50 doctors at the Princess Marina Hospital joined the strike has troubled the court on what effect this has on ...the agreement. The same applies to 27 clinics, which have been closed around the country," he said.
Justice Maruping said that the court wondered what impact the strike has on essential services and the provision of minimum service.
"Doesn't this mean that all the clinics had to be open and run on skeletal staff?" he wondered. He raised concern over the issue of striking cleaners and overflowing domestic waste in hospitals and wondered if the cleaners should not be considered as part of health services adding, "The same applies to cooks and porters. This court has had anxiety over this."
The applicants, he said had sufficiently established a case, and that the matter was urgent as it was dealing with life and death. When presenting his case, Tafa painted a gloomy picture of the health situation: patients are stranded as clinics across the country have closed down; 50 doctors at Princess Marina Hospital have joined the strike; nurses in various clinics across the country have also not turned up for work with the result that 27 clinics were forced to shut down; government noticed on April 20 that clinical waste remained uncollected and overflowing and there could be a disease outbreak anytime; there were no cooks to cook the food that inpatients need before they can take their medication.
"It is against this background that government cannot sit back, and this is why there was replacement of labour in some institutions to provide services to the people. There is a big problem at hand and there is a bigger problem coming ... government had to intervene," he said adding that no one knows when the strike will end. Answering, attorney Kole Energy Kole, for the trade unions, said they only received the court papers in the morning and had not had time to prepare. Notwithstanding he said that asking the court to interdict the strikers was unacceptable as the strike was protected by the law. Kole said according to the Trade Dispute Act, kitchen hands and cleaners are not listed as part of essential services. Furthermore, he said that essential service employees were entitled, by the law, to participate in the industrial action and called government's application as "a desperate attempt to confuse issues". The parties are to present their arguments in earnest on Friday.