Care-workers march for better salaries

Community health workers demand to be directly employed by government. Photo by Qhama Mroleli

About 100 community health workers marched through the streets of Cape Town to the Western Cape Department of Health to demand better working conditions.

Nomonde Langa is a community health worker and a member of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) who marched to the provincial Department of Health demanding the standardisation of stipends for community health workers. Langa has been a community health worker since 1992: “I started at the time when we would dispense medication to the patients and that was in 1992,” she said. The union is basing the demand on the collective bargaining agreement of 2018 that stipulates that between 1 April and March 2019 salary adjustments for levels 1 – 7 would be 7 percent.

“We are asking for the department to at least comply with the minimum wage but we are also saying that care-workers should be on the persal [personal salary] system of the department. Currently they earn R1,800 per month on average. The non-governmental organisations that they work for determine how much they pay them even though they are doing the work that the Department of Health is supposed to carry out,” said NUPSAW’s provincial organiser and legal officer, Zamuxolo Sonjica.

Langa told Elitsha that she does not have benefits except for access to the Unemployed Insurance Fund. The job of a care-worker entails visiting patients at their homes, and bathing and feeding them. They do HIV counseling and testing at the hospitals but at the end of the day their labour is not recognised. “My day starts at 08:30 and I service about six patients a day or more. Sometimes we bath or clean their house and then continue to make sure that they have taken their treatment,” said Langa.

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“We work in crime ridden neigbourhoods; we are always at the risk of being mugged,” said the 66-year-old. Her sentiments were echoed by Nangamso Zini, a 25-year-old community health worker from Khayelitsha. Zini works for TBHIV Care. “Because we go into peoples’ houses, you could be raped at any time. We are not safe at work,” she said.

The union also wants the MEC for Health in the Western Cape, NomaFrench Mbombo and her HOD, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, to explain pronouncements they made that agreements reached between the government and the union do not apply to the Western Cape. According to NUPSAW, the resolution binds the national and provincial departments of health. “Unless we don’t live in South Africa and we live in Zimbabwe, they must explain their intentions and programme of action as far as that resolution is concerned,” said Sonjica.

The union also wants the reinstatement of funding of Sarah Fox and appointment of competent administrators to run the hospital. Sarah Fox Children’s Convalescent Hospital was closed down in August after the department withdrew its funding because the hospital did not comply with certain requirements.

The memorandum was handed to the health MEC’s spokesperson, Colleen Smart and Director of Labour Relations, Richard Roman.

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