Community healthcare workers down tools

Union wants outsourcing stopped and workers integrated with health department

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Photo of protesters

On Thursday dozens of community health workers picketed outside Khayelitsha Day Hospital. Photo: Vincent Lali

The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union says about 28,000 community health workers were to down tools across the country on Friday. It’s not clear yet if this occurred.

In a memorandum addressed to Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, NUPSAW national organiser Solly Malema says community health workers play a crucial role in the testing and screening of residents staying in “high density and high risk areas”.

“We conducted a survey of the safety of community health workers in all provinces which reveals worrying inconsistencies regarding training, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and standard operating procedures across and between provinces,” he said.

“The issues of proper PPE for community health workers in the Western Cape is concerning as the majority of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are non-compliant on the provision of proper PPE.”

On Thursday dozens of community healthcare workers picketed outside Khayelitsha Day Hospital in Khayelitsha. They sang struggle songs and carried placards that read: “Danger allowance”, “Permanent jobs” and “We demand integration into Department of Health”.

The protest was organised by NUPSAW.

Community health workers are contracted by various non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Vuyani Shwane, NUPSAW provincial organiser, said: “Our main demand is that all community health workers be integrated into the Western Cape Health Department.”

Shwane said community healthcare workers have no job security and NUPSAW opposed the Department of Health’s outsourcing of primary health care to NGOs. “We view the outsourcing of health care services as unconstitutional and illegal,” he said.

“Workers come into contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus. They are supposed to wear goggles, surgical masks, aprons and gloves,” said Shwane.

The union is calling for a R2,000 danger allowance to be made available to the community workers.

Shwane said most NGOs don’t contribute towards the Compensation Fund and workers couldn’t claim compensation when injured. He said that health workers sometimes sustain injuries when attacked by dogs or thugs while doing their duties.

Community health worker Cynthia Tikwayo said: “A new part of our job description is to trace residents who are sick in informal settlements. When we find them, we sometimes hear that they have coronavirus.”

“We don’t get sanitisers, so we have to buy them ourselves,” she said.

Tikwayo said integration into the health department would come with a salary increase. Community health workers earn about R3,600 a month but expect R5,000 if absorbed into the health department.

The demand by community health workers to be made permanent workers employed by the health department is one that has frequently arisen over the past decade or so.

Comment from the Western Cape Health Department had not been received at the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Covid-19 Health Unions

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