02/06/2018 11:38 BST | Updated 02/06/2018 11:38 BST

People’s Health Movement Withdraws From Nehawu

Anger at failure of union to 'distance itself' from hospital protests that endangered patient lives.

MARCO LONGARI via Getty Images
Patients walk through waste and garbage bags at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, during a protest by the employees on May 31 2018.

The People's Health Movement, South Africa (PHMSA) has withdrawn its membership from the National Health Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) Health Subcommittee. This comes after Nehawu did not condemn violent protests at hospitals in North West in early May, and at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg this week.

Protest action forced hospitals in North West to shut down in early May. On Thursday a violent protest disrupted Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.

"Reports state that patients have been threatened, chased from the pharmacy, and locked in the basement. Surgical operations have been cancelled [at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital]," said PHMSA.

PHMSA emailed Nehawu on April 24 and May 11 expressing concern about protests at hospitals, but has received no response from Nehawu. PHMSA said it "supports the right of health workers to take strong, even disruptive industrial action to improve wages and working conditions". It said that the Labour Relations Act makes health workers "vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their right to strike".

However, PHMSA said, "We do not ... condone violence, nor action that endangers the lives of vulnerable people."

PHMSA said it did not see "any report of Nehawu distancing itself from these, or from the reported earlier actions, nor of disciplinary steps being taken". PHMSA decided to distance "itself from any acts by Nehawu that causes harm to the health of vulnerable people and to people's health more broadly".

It had previously been reported that Nehawu released a statement on Thursday claiming it had no control over the protests. "Nehawu in [Gauteng] has been helplessly observing sporadic actions in different facilities of the Gauteng department of health ... over the past three days," the union said. "These actions have led to the intimidation of staff and patients and compromised service delivery."

Nehawu blamed the provincial health department for its "lacklustre response" to demands handed to it on March 16. The union urged the department to pay the bonuses to avoid further disruption of services.

Despite requests, further comment from Nehawu specific to the PHM statement was not forthcoming.

– GroundUp. This article was edited for HuffPost.