Community careworkers in the Eastern Cape marched to the provincial Department of Health demanding direct and permanent employment.
Eastern Cape Community Careworkers have vowed to sleep outside the Health Department if their demands are on met.
On Thursday, 16 July, about 100 community careworkers led by the United Eastern Cape Community Health Careworkers marched to the Eastern Cape Health Department offices in Bisho demanding permanent employment with benefits.
They said the department promised to make them permanent at the start of this month but, instead, new community careworkers were hired and the department automatically renewed the old contracts.
The workers said they are tired of being undermined by the health department saying it is high time that they are also treated just like nurses.
This year alone, the health workers said they have marched to Bisho three times but the department is refusing to listen to their demands. They were previously protesting outside the health department offices last week, on the 6th of July. They left around 19:00 after superintendent-general, Thobile Mbengashe, came to accept their memorandum.
Having received no response to their memorandum, today they insisted that they get answers to their demands from Mbengashe or from the Health MEC, Sindisiwe Gomba.
Community careworker, Buyelwa Lavisa, who works in East London Braelyn clinic, said they only want one thing from the health department − a date when to expect their permanent contracts.
“We are at the forefront of the health department but the treatment we get from the department is very disappointing. It’s us health workers who test patients for TB, HIV and now we are screening for covid-19 but we are not getting any benefits. If I’m infected by TB at work I get a six-month treatment with no payment. Now our colleagues are affected by covid-19; some are dying because of this virus but nothing is done about that,” Lavisa said.
“We are risking our lives for nothing. We are working under poor conditions with lack of protective gear. Most of the community careworkers are working in informal settlements; we are robbed, some are raped in the line of work but no one cares about us and we are saying that has to change,” she said.
Like all the careworkers Elitsha spoke to, she is unhappy with MEC Gomba, saying she has undermined them as healthcare workers and does not care about their grievances.
“When MEC Gomba was announced as MEC, we were happy as communty careworkers because she knows our pain. When the community careworkers under municipalities we were working under her. We used to cry together with her but now she acts like she does not know our grievances,” she said.
“The health department cannot tell us that they do not have money to hire us permanent. If they can buy 100 scooters for millions clearly there’s money. What makes us so angry is that not a single careworker is hired to work with those scooters; it’s new people who were hired and they are going to be trained by us,” said angry Lavisa.
Another community careworker, Thobeka Faltein, said it was hearing that careworkers in other provinces had been made permanent that made them protest.
She said this is not the first time the department had broken promises to make them permanent.
“We are tired of that. We are saying enough is enough. Imagine working for 15 years then when you die your children get nothing. After 15 years of service, when you retire you go home empty handed. We been quiet for so long now it is time for action. We can no longer sit back and let health play us. They will make us permanent! If it means we must sleep here, we will do that,” said Faltein.
Currently the community careworkers are being paid R3,500 monthly.
Faltein said what frustrates them most is that they are not allowed to apply for a child support grant since they receive a stipend, which puts them on the PERSAL system and they are, therefore, classed as government employees.
“When we send our children to university, we struggle because NSFAS does not allow them to apply because of this PERSAL. When we enquire about this PERSAL, we are told it’s abnormal PERSAL and that does not help us at all,” she said.
Health Department chief director of labour relations, Bongani Lose, tried to address the workers saying that MEC Gomba and SG Mbengashe were attending a funeral and would respond to workers the following day.
The workers refused to leave, however, and said that they will wait for Gomba outside her office.
When Elitsha left the offices at 17:00, workers were still outside singing, refusing to leave.
EC Health Department spokesperson, Siyanda Manana, did not answer our questions.