Nehawu in Eastern Cape plans strike to hire more health workers

About 35 health workers in Cathcart contracted covid-19. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrick

NEHAWU in the Eastern Cape says it will use a 21st of August strike by health workers to force the department to hire more staff.

Lack of personal protective equipment in hospitals, shortage of staff, and the refusal by management to test health workers for covid-19 are some of the reasons the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in Eastern Cape is calling for the provincial head of health, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, to be removed.

Nehawu accuses Mbengashe of running the department into the ground with hospitals that are headed by managers who lack the capacity to lead.

According to Nehawu Eastern Cape provincial secretary, Miki Jaceni, their members have been overworked during this pandemic due to a lack of staff. He said this was the case before the covid-19 outbreak and now things are only worse.

Nehawu has been at odds with the department over the provision of PPEs, the safety of health workers and now the quality of management staff.

Jaceni said they can no longer keep quiet when things are falling apart. “Mbengashe has proven to us that he is not capable of leading the department and we are saying premier Mabuyane must do the right thing and remove him. It does not matter where they take him as long it’s not the health sector,” said Jaceni.

“We have been complaining about Mbengashe’s leadership for a very long time now starting with lack of PPEs which is putting the safety of our members at risk. Our members are affected by covid-19 and some have lost their lives… We believe that there is negligence somewhere from the hospital leaders.” The Health MEC’s R10-million purchase of 100 scooters is clear evidence of defective leadership.

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Jaceni said that a shortage of PPEs is a constant challenge in all Eastern Cape hospitals. Workers at Cathcart Hospital near Queenstown staged a strike which lasted for more than three weeks over the provision of PPE among other issues. The hospital management refused to concede to the demand from the workers that they all be tested for covid-19. So far, 35 health workers have tested positive and a few have been taken to isolation according to the union’s shopsteward.

The shopsteward, who wanted to remain anonymous, said this hospital has a shortage of doctors and nurses. Workers believe management did not want all staff tested as that could send too many into isolation and leave no one to take care of patients. The staff shortage is so bad, he said, one person does the work of three but their complaints fall on deaf ears.

“Another challenge we are facing is the lack of communication between staff and management. Even before some of us were tested we had to protest for weeks and the management acted as if nothing was happening,” he said.

In Eastern Cape more than 3,500 health workers have contracted the virus, while the national total is 24,104 at 2 August with 181 fatalities recorded.

Last week, Nehawu announced its plan to withdraw its labour across the country on 21 August, encouraging its members to file for leave on that day. Jaceni said they are going to use this tactic to force Mbengashe to hire more staff.

Responding to this reporter, Mbengashe laughed at the allegation from Nehawu: “As far as I know we work very well with Nehawu and I think as a public servant my responsibility is to be open for any discussion.” He said he communicates with the union and he believes that all the issues they have will be solved.

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