After the recent month-long strike by public servants, Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang announced an across-the-board increase of at least 20
percent for public nurses, as well as improved medical coverage and housing
subsidies. As part of this new "occupation specific dispensation"
system, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and emergency care workers would move
to a similar pay system next year, while all other public health professionals
would see substantial increases by 2009. The recent industrial action - South
Africa's longest public service strike ended on 28 June, but not before
bringing the country to its knees: health workers, teachers and government
employees took to the streets in protest state hospitals were forced to
transfer patients to private facilities and discharge all non-critical cases.
In South Africa it is illegal for members of essential services, such as the
police and medical personnel, to strike. Tension mounted when government
countered the unions' initial demand of a 12 percent hike with an offer of
only 6 percent a mutually agreed 7.5 percent increase brought the strike to
A newly qualified professional nurse would now enter the public health sector
at a salary of R96,750 per year (about US13,900), which is R17,343 (about
2,500) more than that person would have received before July 2007,"
Tshabalala-Msimang said. While all nurses will receive an increase of at least
20 percent, they will also have additional opportunities. "Nurses will
now have an opportunity to progress to higher salary levels, based on
performance, education and accumulation of skills," she said.
Pierre Uys, provincial health minister for the Western Cape Province said
nurse educators had received special attention in the new system and would
receive R159,000 (about 22,800) annually, in an effort to increase the
country's capacity. "Previously, nurse educators earned a salary parallel
to that of professional nurses, which meant it was always very difficult to
attract them to the field," Uys said. "We now hope to attract a
small but qualified group of people."
According to the South African Nurses Council, the country produces
approximately 2,500 nurses per year, but a 2006 study by the Center for
Global Development found that more than 4,844 were working overseas. At least
12,207 South African health workers in total - including an estimated 21
percent of doctors produced in the country - were practicing abroad in 2006.
The health department continues to identify "brain drain", or the
emigration of skilled health workers, as a continuing trend. While South
African rands may still not compete with British pounds, Uys said the new
increase would at least put public health salaries on a par with the private
sector in South Africa. Although the details were still being finalised in
talks between the government and health worker unions, such as the National
Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), and the Health and Other
Service Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa), union officials were pleased.
"Negotiations are still continuing, we are still working out the
translation keys between the new and old salary structures to determine where
everyone will be but, so far, we're happy," said Rifos Mahlake, a
Hospersa negotiator. The talks are expected to conclude by 31 August -
overshooting the original 31 July deadline by a month - said James Cornwall,
chief negotiator for the public health and social development sectors, but
nurses would still receive the increase retroactively from 1 July.