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Nehawu lashes SA Medical Association

Nehawu: The South African Medical Association should get a better grip on OSD negotiations and keep its affiliate members.

The South African Medical Association (Sama) should get a better grip on occupation-specific dispensation (OSD) negotiations and keep its affiliate members – such as the South African Registrars’ Association (Sara) — under control.

That’s according to National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla. This follows Sara’s threat to lead a national doctors’ strike after Nehawu and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) signed the government’s latest offer, which more than 90% of Sama members rejected during a formal voting process in July, last Friday.

Doctors are unhappy with the small increases offered to medical officers and specialists working in the state sector and also wanted to get a minimum service level agreement that would enable them to strike legally.

“Nehawu and Denosa undermined the opinion of doctors and signed this deal without our knowledge,” said Sara spokesperson Dr Lebo Phahladira. “The only amendment to the deal was a special resolution that government will review salaries by April 2010. But they could easily not adhere to this or say they don’t have the money.”

But Pamla said Sama has lacked understanding of OSD negotiations “right from the start” and “some members often refused to participate when participation was crucial”. He claimed Sama’s inflexibility will get it nowhere, that leadership should understand that negotiations have reached “the end of the road with government having no more money”, and that the offer is “fair and reasonable.”

Sama spokesperson Dr Mac Lukhele confirmed the association mandated Denosa to sign the deal. Sama participated in the OSD under the umbrella of Denosa as the doctors’ association does not have sufficient representation for its own seats in the bargaining chamber.

“Legally, if we refused to sign after the 21-day period we were given to discuss the offer, government could have unilaterally implemented whatever agreement they wanted. We had no choice,” he said.

But Pamla dissented: “I can’t help but get the impression that Sama has no control over its affiliate members. Something should be done about it – why did they not discuss these things before signing?”

Meanwhile, Sama members are getting increasingly unhappy with its leadership and are considering joining other unions. “The way forward is to get a union with enough members to actually mean something and one that is not government-dependent,” Sara member Dr Braam van der Merwe of Tygerberg Hospital said. Dr Thomas Bredenkamp of Shongwe Hospital in Mpumalanga confirmed this: “Doctors won’t settle for this type of leadership. Sama can expect big trouble in the near future.”

Earlier this year, several state doctors joined the newly established United Democratic Front after expressing unhappiness with Sama. But the new organisation has not managed to constitute a legal union.

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.