DOCTORS working for the Eastern Cape department of health are going the legal route to force the provincial authority to pay them their January salaries.
Despite assurances by health superintendent-general Siva Pillay, 16 junior doctors have not received a cent for their work in public hospitals across the province.
Now the Junior Doctors’ Association of South Africa (Judasa) are instituting legal action.
Adding to the furore is that the 194 newly-appointed junior doctors at government hospitals – that were paid for January – did not receive overtime payments or rural allowances either.
Yesterday, Judasa chairman Dr Tende Makofane expressed concern over the failure of the department to pay junior doctors and said the problem was becoming more frequent.
“We have instigated legal action against the provinces that did not pay salaries to their junior doctors and this includes the Eastern Cape and Limpopo,” Makofane said.
The chairman identified Gauteng and Kwazulu-natal as among the worst offenders but said the Eastern Cape was at the top of the list with 16 unpaid junior doctors. “We can’t accept it any longer. “Government must be held accountable because the doctors want to work in these provinces but they (the provincial departments) have created this reluctance perceived by doctors,” he said.
The legal threat comes after a threat from the Eastern Cape health department against young doctors who studied on a provincial bursary but failed to work in the province after graduating.
Yesterday, Pillay said that 631 new health professionals were paid their basic salaries and labelled it a success.
“[In the past] doctors were paid after 60 or 90 days due to the HPSCA [Health Professionals Council of South Africa] registration problems … this is a major success,” he said.
Pillay last week promised that only doctors not registered with the HPCSA would go unpaid.
He said those not registered with the council and not captured on the department’s database would be paid, at the latest, by February 7.
“If not, they will receive a cheque instead,” Pillay vowed.
However, a junior doctors’ committee member for the department said yesterday all the community service doctors and medical interns not paid had received their certificates from the health council.
“This handful of doctors did register and did receive their certificates from the council but were still not paid,” the member, who asked to remain anonymous, said. The committee member added that none of the junior doctors received additional benefits like overtime and rural allowances.
Eastern Cape health department spokesman Siyanda Manana said while they could not disclose the exact figure of unpaid junior doctors, the issue stemmed from a “systematic problem” with the database not being updated.
“We are busy mopping up those that fell through the system and investigating the matter and will get more information tomorrow [today].”
According Manana, at least 80% of the doctors being owed overtime and rural allowance would be paid in full by Monday.
Pillay said the problem may have arisen because some doctors had been captured on the department’s database twice.
“They would have been rejected because they tried to register themselves at two hospitals to keep their options open,” he said, adding that he looked forward to going to court to show that the department did everything they could.
An unpaid doctor who works at the East London Health Complex said yesterday: “I am registered with the council but it is the human resources department’s fault. I have been asking them for weeks but they were obviously unable to help.”
Another doctor said: “It is such an inconvenience. I have been working here for a month but have nothing to show for it.”
He said debit orders for his student and vehicle loans would go unpaid unless he could find the money somewhere else. “It is rubbish and not fair,” the doctor said.
National Department of Health spokesman Fidel Hadebe declined to comment, saying only: “As far as I know [the] Eastern Cape health [department] maintains there are no plans for any doctor not to receive their salaries.”
However, the DA’S shadow MEC for health, John Cupido, said he was not surprised that some doctors were not paid.
“The Eastern Cape is known for not paying their doctors.
“The department should have put measures in place to ensure the new doctors were paid,” he said.
Chairman of the province’s health portfolio committee Mxolisi Dimaza said it was unfortunate the doctors were not paid as promised.
“Everyone knows the province has a shortage of doctors and this is creating a serious problem.
“The department must apologise and pay up immediately,” he said. — firstname.lastname@example.org