In the first COVID-19 labour-related court case in South Africa, trade union Solidarity will lodge an urgent application at the Labour Court on behalf of a doctor whose application for leave was declined after she treated a patient who showed symptoms of the virus.

In a letter of demand to the Levai Mbatha Community Health Centre in Gauteng, Solidarity called on the institution to give an undertaking before 10:00 yesterday that Dr Sarah Martin would be placed on leave pending the test results of the patient in question. The centre did not meet the deadline to give such an undertaking and Solidarity is now meeting with its legal team to make a final decision on urgent legal action, the trade union said.

“Health practitioners will play a decisive role in the fight against Covid-19. We have to protect them so they can protect us. In this matter we are acting on behalf of health professionals, but also on behalf of South Africans in general. Solidarity expects an avalanche of legal cases arising from Covid-19 because of the legal uncertainty that prevails,” says Solidarity’s CEO, Dr Dirk Hermann.

“It is the legal obligation of any institution to ensure the safety of its employees, and to adhere to the protocols required with regard to the Covid-19 virus,” Anton van der Bijl, head of Labour Law Services at Solidarity said.

The Levai Mbatha Community Health Centre also failed to provide the necessary personal protection equipment (“PPE”) to health professionals, thus increasing the risk of infection multifold.

“Dr Martin feels responsible for the safety and wellness of her patients, but now feels that she has to put them at risk because her employer requires her to do so. As Solidarity’s demand was not met, we will bring an urgent application to ensure her safety and that of her patients,” Van der Bijl concluded.