Eastern Cape Health hostage to ‘brutal thuggery’ of unions — Judge

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WalshA Labour Court judge says Eastern Cape Health appears to be held hostage by a concentrated union campaign of “violence and intimidation” at its Fort England Hospital.  However, despite the unions seemingly dictating policy at the high-security facility, the court ruled the redeployment of the CEO, Dr Roger Walsh, as “not unreasonable”.

The Herald writes that the Eastern Cape Health Department won its case resisting a court order to redeploy Walsh, but judge Andre van Niekerk said its response to the demands of labour unions at the hospital was concerning.

“Employment policy appears to have been dictated by the unions,” he said, adding that it seemed the department was being held hostage through a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation conducted by power-hungry union officials.

The report says Walsh was appointed as CEO in October 2013 but shortly afterwards trade unions demanded he be removed. According to papers, this was triggered by measures he put in place to address, among other things, irregular leave and staff members running businesses from the hospital.

Walsh’s legal team argued that the decision to transfer him was taken when the department yielded to an unlawful demand by the unions and threats to burn the hospital down and compromise the safety of patients. “What the unions demanded was Walsh’s forcible removal,” van Niekerk is quoted in the report as saying. “Further the unions and their members resorted to violence to further this end.”

Walsh applied for an order to be reinstated as CEO of the hospital, claiming he was just the latest in a long line of hospital managers moved from their positions after they angered labour unions in the province’s hospitals. During the hearing, the court heard that the CEOs of the Livingstone, Dora Nginza and Elizabeth Donkin hospitals had all previously been moved by superintendent-general Thobile Mbengashe after they fell out with the unions.

Fort England is a high-security facility in Makhanda looking after 300 patients with mental health disorders. The report says it also houses a national maximum security unit, looking after dangerous and difficult state patients. It is the only hospital in the country where mental assessment of patients accused of sexual violence is undertaken.

Judge Van Niekerk said the decision by Mbengashe to remove Walsh, however, did not fall outside the bounds of rationality. “The decision extended beyond Walsh’s self-interest to the interest of staff and patients . . . this is not irrational.”

Van Niekerk said union leaders were themselves guilty of serious misconduct and “brutal acts of thuggery” and showed little to no regard for the safety of patients.

Health Department spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha said in the report that the department was still studying the judgment and it was too early to comment.

Walsh said while his legal team and that for the Health Department had agreed he would not be required to work until the judgment was handed down, he was fired for absconding last month. He said he was in consultation with his legal team.

The Herald report (subscription needed)

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