Indications are the legal services division of the national defence force can ready itself for another court battle with the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) in the wake of what appears to be the illegal termination of service for 35 SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) personnel.
They were part of a group of 76 studying medicine in Cuba and, according to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), were “administratively discharged” for being absent without official leave (AWOL). This was apparently because they did not attend classes at “what was little more than a Cuban Defence Force infantry battalion” according to Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff.
The medics in training were moved to the infantry facility after a semester at a medical training facility. This was because they were not registered as medical students, apparently a South African requirement in terms of the Health Professions Act. Additionally, the Cuban institution they were initially enrolled at was not an accredited medical teaching facility.
“Defence force management and powers-that-be in Cuba could not explain this, nor provide a solution or address their concerns. In the end it boils down to requiring someone studying medicine in unlawful circumstances clearly in breach of employment contracts,” Greeff said adding the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SANDF were given a deadline to reinstate the discharged SAMHS members.
“We have previously taken the national defence force to court over the issue of administrative discharge and won. You cannot discharge someone without a hearing. It happened in the Union Buildings march case and will happen again.”
DoD head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini was earlier this week reported by Gauteng daily The Citizen as saying the 35 were discharged through the military justice process. “Going AWOL is a serious offence. It is a dismissible offence. This is military, not civilian law.”
The military trade union is also readying itself to take another issue – that of overtime for SAMHS doctors – to court.
Greeff said Sandu was consulting lawyers and affected SAMHS personnel for “unilaterally and unlawfully changing service conditions of medical staff and endangering the lives of military patients.”
He wanted to know how understaffed military hospitals are going to function if overtime hours are cut – “do they expect doctors to work for free?”
A SAMHS memorandum has it that no specialist, dentist or medical officer will be allowed to exceed eight hours overtime a week. The previous limit was 16 hours a week.
According to an SANDF statement the remuneration of medical practitioners is a priority.
“The payment of doctors’ commuted overtime, normal overtime as well as overtime in excess of 30% of monthly salary will continue being paid as per contractual agreement. This payment is subject to written agreement, duly completed contract, proof in the form of planning rosters and attendance record as well as certification of overtime by relevant general officers or Officers Commanding,” the statement said without giving any indication of whether a cut in overtime hours was factual or not.