Community care workers on strike for permanent jobs

Community healthcare workers from East London protest outside the Eastern Cape government's Amathole District Health Department offices in East London, 12-13 November 2020. Photo supplied

Community healthcare workers are on the frontline in the battle against the covid-19 pandemic, yet in the Eastern Cape are still ‘volunteers’.

Striking Eastern Cape community care workers have threatened to continue with their strike next week until the government responds positively to their demands.

A large group of placard waving strikers protested outside the Eastern Cape government’s Amathole District Health Department offices in East London from Wednesday until last Friday.

They have appealed to state President, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Health Minister. Zweli Mkhize. to employ them permanently and stop the ongoing discrimination in government’s employment processes.

The action is part of a national protest by the National, Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) against what they alleged was the selective employment of only Gauteng-based community healthcare workers by government. Buyelwa Lavisa, Nehawu’s co-ordinator in the Buffalo City Metropolitan (BCM) area said they embarked on the strike this week to air their discontent over government’s preferential employment of Gauteng-based community healthcare workers and sidelining of those from other provinces.

“We find it a very distressing matter to discover that our government only considered employing our counterparts from the area up north and discriminated against us, whilst we render a similar service.

“With this indefinite strike we aim to demand that the authorities also employ us full-time in the same level 3 system as they did with those other Gauteng workers.

“It feels very unfair to be left out in the cold and discriminated against by those in power when the opportunities we deserved were being rolled out in the same fraternity we belong to,” said Lavisa.

She claimed that Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, promised to scrutinise the issue when they approached him about it in July but failed to consult them again.

“We have already submitted several memorandums to Premier Mabuyane and the senior provincial government officials about this issue but we did not hear anything from them again.

“This week we heard President Ramaphosa announcing the increasing number of covid-19 cases in the province, something which means that we should be in the forefront to battle the infectious virus again and yet we are provided with no full-time jobs or pay increment on the meagre income we earn.

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“We have just been constantly exploited and enjoy no support or benefits from the authorities for the heartfelt dedication we express in our work.

“You can instead observe that their conduct keeps one hopeless that things will ever come right, and the latest legal developments by the Hawks revealed that state officials have just been illegally pocketing the cash which should be used to compensate us for the sterling work we do as health care workers.

“We make an appeal to President Ramaphosa and Health Minister Mkhize to have mercy and also provide us with permanent jobs. We deserve it also.

“It has been more than 20 years since we have dedicated ourselves and contributed with our skills and experience to assist the health department,” said Lavisa.

She is one of 5,000 community healthcare workers in the Eastern Cape.

The strikers complained that they were infuriated by the government’s demand for minimum qualifications as they rendered services that were competent enough to qualify for the annual government statistics with no complaints received over two decades.

The mostly women strikers said the new requirement was quarrelsome and appears to be just a ploy by the authorities to sideline them. Some moaned that community healthcare has left them devastated, earning peanuts, and unable to afford tertiary education fees for their children.

“We are disheartened that some of us will soon die, leaving our children with nothing if the government handles us this way,” said an emotional, middle-aged female striker from Duncan Village who claimed to have been in the service for over 20 years.

Thandi Maseti, a 47-year-old mother of four delivers her services as a community healthcare worker at Petros Jobane Clinic in Cambridge township, East London, and she says they were always optimistic that one day the state will take them on permanently.

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 “All the time in the past 20 years I worked as a care worker, I expected that we would certainly get permanently employed because several senior officials have been promising us that way.

“We also devoted ourselves to this type of work and even took major life risks. I cannot understand why the state treats us in this manner.

“It is my utmost wish that they can stop the empty promises they have been making and take us on in order to compensate us for the wholehearted dedication we have given to the service,” said Maseti.

She claimed that despite testing Covid-19 positive recently, she received no support from her employer. 

It has been reported that the state recently hired seven more permanent nurses to each of its clinics in the province as one of its new strategies to deal with the covid-19 pandemic.

The majority of healthcare workers assumed that the health department should have instead added the cash allocated for the new nurses’ salaries as an increment to their own payment.

 “We have exhausted all the relevant channels and declared a dispute with the employer after we reached a stage when we got fed up with their tactics.

“You must conduct yourselves peacefully and strive in similar actions regardless of the ‘no work, no pay’ threats your bosses made, in order to achieve better working conditions in future.” said Kenneth Fitoyi, Nehawu’s Eastern Cape organiser. He preached unity amongst the large group of strikers who waved placards outside the Health Department offices in East London.

Siyanda Manana, the Eastern Cape Health Department’s spokesperson said they could not respond on the matter because it is of national concern and therefore must be handled by the bargaining council.

“We cannot respond on this at this point until we have received some directive from council,” said Manana. 

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