Court order ends strike by cleaners at Tygerberg Hospital

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The nearly week-long protest by cleaners at the Western Cape’s biggest hospital – arising from months of allegedly being short-changed for their work – has come to a halt, reports The Times.

Members of the custodial staff at Tygerberg Hospital, in Cape Town, claimed they were being paid for fewer hours than they actually worked and refused to clean any longer. Their protest marked the start of discussions between the hospital, the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) and cleaning service provider Afriboom to tackle the dispute.

But, the report quotes hospital spokesperson Laticia Pienaar as saying that the matter was stifled by a court order. “The Department of Health [in the] Western Cape approached the High Court on Saturday 1 June for an urgent order preventing further action by the workers. An interim interdict was obtained late that evening,” she said. “No further action has been reported subsequent to the order. Services are currently operating as per normal,” said Pienaar, adding that the legal action was taken “to safeguard our patients and staff”.

A nurse at the hospital confirmed that everything was operating as usual and there were no signs of any further protest.

The report says the cleaners involved in the strike claimed they were dismissed on 27 May. Despite their alleged dismissal, the employees congregated in a ground-floor room inside the building on 31 May. One of the workers, Olivia Tambatamba, said they did not plan to leave until they had their jobs back and were paid fairly. “No way – we are not going anywhere,” she said. “We are fighting for our place. We are not going anywhere until they terminate this conduct.”

Fellow worker Patricia Muthaca was incensed about her dismissal. “I was supposed to go on my leave on the Friday, and they said, ‘No, you must come in … Why did you protest about your money? You are dismissed.’ That is not right,” said Muthaca. Muthaca believed the decision stemmed from the workers’ demonstrations since late April, which mainly involved singing to draw attention to their situation. “I didn’t vandalise anything. That is why I refused to sign (the paper). The dismissal is for what?” she said.

The report says before they were let go, the staff continued to work while making inquiries to management about their payment. According to the cleaners, they had already lost their jobs to new employees. “You can’t take our job,” said Tambatamba. “We are here. We need our job!”

The original workers said in the report that they asked their replacements to support their efforts and not to come to work, which left the hospital with no outsourced cleaners.

“The hospital is currently using its own staff to manage the cleaning of toilets,” Pienaar said earlier before the matter was resolved. “During the day, the staff will clean the toilets and in the evenings they will concentrate on the passages. This will be the plan of action for the rest of the weekend.”

Afriboom human resources manager Ruan Pottas said that on 9 and 10 May, the days of scheduled disciplinary inquiries, the staff were on duty but refused to participate in the proceedings. “The inquiries were held in absentia. The staff were found guilty and summarily dismissed” on 27 May.

In regards to protests and Satawu getting involved, Pottas said: “We believe these issues could have been resolved in a more peaceful and cooperative manner.

“There is fair process to be followed for matters raised at the CCMA and there is a court order to be respected by us all, highlighting the importance of minimising the impact of the spread of viral and bacterial infections, especially in this instance – Tygerberg Hospital being a place of care and essential services to the South African public.”

The Times report

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