Despite national protests called by the National Education Heath and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) to highlight the ailing public healthcare system, the Eastern Cape government claims it is injecting more than R500-million to upgrade its dilapidated health infrastructure.
Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, the spokesperson for the premier, assured Elitsha that the upgrading of infrastructure continues as part of their response to one of the Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s recommendations which he made to the authorities during his visit to the province earlier this year.
“We have injected more than R500-million into our health infrastructure and are continuing with the upgrading of the provincial health facilities. PPE is available in all our local hospitals. Safety of our health workers is our priority,” said Sicwetsha.
Better quality healthcare, improved working conditions, and pay increases, including the payment of a covid-19 risk allowance for frontline health workers, were some of the demands made by the protesting Nehawu members when they handed over their memorandum to the Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane’s, office in Bhisho on Thursday.
Supported by their tripartite alliance partners, more than 600 health workers and members of the union from seven of its branches waved placards and chanted liberation songs as they lambasted the government for alleged corruption in covid-19 PPE procurement.
The union threatened a national shutdown of health facilities by 10 September if the authorities fail to respond positively to their grievances.
Miki Jaceni, Nehawu’s Eastern Cape secretary, cautioned that they will continue with the protest action to showcase to the employer that they really mean business on the matters they collectively signed and agreed to with government.
“There has been a great need for us to highlight some of the things which covid-19’s existence have exposed, such as the disgraceful corruption scandals. And we really cannot allow people to enrich and accumulate wealth for themselves on other people’s miseries, and yet still consider that such things would not be detected because those people are sick.
“It is sad that we have lost many lives of dedicated frontline workers including doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners in our health facilities, and indeed strived tirelessly towards the flattening of this hard hitting epidemic to reach level 2, and yet the government continued to deliberately undermine our devoted efforts in our work… spreading propaganda that all the issues we had raised with them about the country’s health never existed.
“However, we have proved it for them today with our point being sustained by Auditor General Clarence Makwetu that all the issues Nehawu had raised were indeed truthful,” said Jaceni. Among these truths is corruption in the department and the union has demanded that government deal with it effectively.
Nehawu’s demand that all nurses be screened was also shown to be the most rational and safest measure to combat the spread of the virus.
For failing dismally to deliver what has been expected of him as the Eastern Cape health department superintendent-general, Dr Mbengashe should resign, said Jaceni. He also called on health minister to assist with the establishment of occupational health and safety committees at state health facilities.
Thursday’s action with the support of their tripartite alliance partners, he warned, was the commencement of further action.
Poor working conditions for healthcare workers
Mlungiseleli Ncapayi, a Nehawu leader from the King Williams Town’s Max Madlingozi branch, complained about the government’s lack of cooperation. The authorities pushed back against health workers’ concerns about their working condition.
“We have agreed that the government does not take us seriously. Even after their abnormal conduct of reneging a wage increment contract which they collectively signed with us two years ago.
“They have failed to implement the 5.5-6.5 percentage wage increment agreement we agreed with them for the health workers in 2018 and came up with some budgetary constraints issues,” said Ncapayi.
The cost of corruption to the department makes the refusal to honour the wage agreement all the more bitter. “That has visibly confirmed to us that you are not serious in ensuring that government funds are spent in a principled and responsible manner,” he added.
Ncapayi attacked the government for depriving health workers of a covid-19 risk allowance. He is not convinced by the authorities that they are cash-strapped.
The premier’s spokesperson, Sicwetsha, said they will look at Nehawu’s petition before they can respond. He did not state anything about the corruption scandals regarding PPE procurement which so angered the protesting health workers.