By Mzwandile Maila and Searatoa Van Driel
More than 200 CHWs were present on the 2nd floor of the House of Movements in Johannesburg, for the arbitration proceeding that began on 7 February 2017, and which was set to continue until 9 February. The case against the Gauteng Department of Health was lodged with the Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council in August last year by Gauteng Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) organised in the Gauteng Community Health Care Forum. Arbitrator, Advocate James N. Matshekga presided over the proceedings.
The Gauteng Health Department’s legal representation began proceedings by requesting a postponement of the hearing for at least a month. The reason for this request, according their lawyers, was to go through documents that they just received (from CHWs lawyers), and to verify who of the CHW applicants were Smartpurse employees.
CHW legal council, Advocate Tim Bruiders responded to this vigorously, arguing that the Department’s lawyers said they were verifying which applicants were Smartpurse employees two weeks ago, so could not put forth the same excuse to delay proceedings. Advocate Bruinders offered a solution that proceedings stand down til the next day, to give them time to go through the new bundle of documents, but stated that “any longer would prejudice CHWs because of the vulnerable position they are in.”
After much debate between the Department’s and the CHWs’ legal representation, Arbitrator Matshekga decided to grant Advocate Bruinders’ suggestion to postpone until the next day. Proceedings were then adjourned.
On 8 February, the Department’s lawyers again tried to delay the arbitration. This time, the reason for requesting a postponement of proceedings was because they believed that Smartpurse should be brought into the arbitration case as a third party, because Smartpurse is the employer of CHWs in Gauteng.
Advocate Bruinders argued that in terms of the section 198b, and more importantly the Labour Court ruling made by Judge AJ Benjamin in March 2016, CHWs should be permanent employees of the Department of Health but the Department’s lawyers argued that this ruling only applies to the applicants (7), and not all Gauteng carers.
After much deliberation, the arbitrator ruled that Smartpurse needs to be included in the case, and therefore it is necessary to postpone the arbitration until 5 June 2017. Arbitrator Matshekga also ruled that Smartpurse and the Department must send the arbitrator and the applicant (Gauteng CHWs) all the necessary documents for the proceedings of the arbitration before 30 April 2017.