Fresh out of hospital herself, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang admonished striking health workers who jeopardised the lives of their patients.
"The dispute in the Public Sector Bargaining Council has posed a major challenge for the health sector," she said during her budget vote in parliament yesterday.
The government is offering a 6,5% wage increase while public servants are demanding 12%.
The minister said while she fully agreed with the need for health workers to be paid decent and competitive wages, she condemned any industrial action that jeopardised the lives and wellbeing of patients.
"Health workers are part of the essential services and they have an ethical and legal obligation to ensure that no patient's life is negatively affected by their actions," she said.
She said it was her view that the offer now on the table, when implemented, would bring a "very significant improvement in the salaries of the nursing profession".
She is the latest of a number of ministers who have hit out at striking civil servants. Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Education Minister Naledi Pandor have all used parliament as a platform to express their concern, and to warn against violence and intimidation by strikers.
In a rare display of solidarity between the Democratic Alliance and the health minister, Gareth Morgan of the DA yesterday supported her tough stance against strikers.
"Maintaining the health and wellbeing of the citizens of South Africa is critical to the success of our country," he said. He, however, welcomed the announcement that health workers would be among the first to receive improved remuneration.
By Boyd Webb The Star