Patients and nurses were turned away from clinics on Monday, 29th of April, due to a striking community of health care workers, who set tyres alight at the entrances of facilities in Kimberley and Ritchie.
The health care workers stated that they would only suspend protest action if their demands are met. They also complained of their human rights being undermined ” we work with very sick patients. Yet, if we contract any illness, we are not offered medical treatment or compensation. We are also being made to work six hours per day, that is in violation of the conditions of service. Many of us are sole breadwinners who are struggling to make ends meet”.
South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (Salipswu) members are demanding to be permanently absorbed into the Northern Cape Department of Health, where they want an increased monthly salary and benefits including a 13th cheque, pension, medical aid and sick and maternity leave.
The provincial organizer of Salipswu, Thapelo Thole, said that various community health worker delegations from around the Province had met on Friday, 03 May, at the Galeshewe Arena, where they expressed their anger regarding the proposed contracts that the Department of Health intended on implementing.
“Bonuses and maternity benefits are not listed in the proposed contracts,” stated Thole adding that ,“This means that if a pregnant woman gives birth, they will not receive the four-month maternity leave and, after 10 days, they will be expected to return to work. This includes women who have had Caesarean sections”. Thole also stated that some workers had not seen the proposed contracts.
“The Minister of Health made it clear in a statement in November last year that all CHWs would be absorbed by April 1 and that they would also be entitled to receive all benefits enjoyed by Department of Health employees, including a monthly salary of R9 500”.
Thole said the union could not understand why this had changed. “Instead, the department is coming with a contract that stipulates that workers will only work for six hours”.
He stated that a mandate had been given by members that all clinics would be closed, and community members would also be mobilized.
“The community is suffering because they receive poor services from the clinics and have to wait for medication. Their files are also always getting lost, ” Thole elaborated.
Spokesperson for the MEC for Health, Lebogang Majaha, said that there were incidents where health care professionals and patients in need of medical care were intimidated Monday morning at various clinics by Salipswu members, particularly in the Sol Plaatje municipal district.
“The department managed to restore calm and the health services,” Majaha added.
The union representatives appreciated the platform created by the MEC and further highlighted their plight in relation to variations in salary deductions of community health workers. The union also cited this as part of their main reason for interrupting health services, to demand the attention of the provincial department.
With regards to issues raised, MEC committed towards commissioning an investigation on the salary deductions of community health workers.
The MEC for Health, Fufe Makatong, warned that any sporadic attempts by any union to transgress the rights of patients would “face the full might of the law”.
“It was made clear that Salipswu failed to secure their space through the bargaining council process last year because they were not recognized by the sector,” said Makatong.
She called on the protesters not to disrupt health services and to follow the correct bargaining council process.
Makatong said that she had agreed to meet with the union “in due course”.