Eastern Cape community health workers protest about job cuts

Union wants national government to “prevent a catastrophic health crisis in the Eastern Cape”

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

18 January 2022

More than 2,700 community health workers in the Eastern Cape are expected to lose their jobs when their contracts end on 31 March. The provincial health department says it has no funds to extend the workers’ contracts. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

About 70 community health workers protested outside the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature in Bhisho on Monday, demanding that they be employed permanently. But the health department says it has no money to employ them.

Protests were also held in Gqeberha and Queenstown.

The contracts of about 2,700 community health workers are expected to end in March. The workers were hired by the provincial health department in an effort to bolster services during the pandemic.

Andisiwe Pamba, who worked as a health promoter at the Sada Clinic, said she had signed a nine-month contract in June 2020. This was later renewed twice.

“We were hoping that they were going to renew it again but that did not happen. We were not even given termination letters like they used to in previous months.” Pamba, who was among protesters on Monday, said during the pandemic, her work was to assist children infected with Covid. She said she had been “sent home with nothing”.

Another worker, Zandile Finca, said, “It is not our fault that [the department] failed to budget properly. We want our jobs back. We are not going to stop protesting until our demands are met.”

The workers have given the department two weeks to respond to their demands.

Meanwhile, staff at clinics in Mdantsane say they are buckling under the pressure of the pandemic and understaffing.

A clinic GroundUp visited this week had two nurses, one who was triaging sick patients and the other who was assisting with immunisations and family planning. Assisting them were eight community health workers who were conducting home visits, registering patients at the clinic, and taking patients’ blood pressure.

If the contracts of the community health workers end in March, the nurses at this clinic fear they won’t manage their workload.

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the department has no additional budget to extend the workers’ contracts this financial year. She said 634 nurses, 91 doctors and 128 medical staff are affected by this.

The department needs about R358 million to hire these health professionals to fill posts in community service, she said. “Unfortunately this funding is not available for the remaining two years of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework,” said Dekeda

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) has called for the national Department of Health to urgently intervene to “prevent a catastrophic health crisis in the Eastern Cape”.