Health workers demand safer conditions

Community health workers protested outside the health district offices, just opposite Khayelitsha District Hospital.

They take medication to residents who are too sick to walk to the clinics.

They also have to clean and take care of those who have no family.

However, community health workers say they themselves are being neglected.

They want better working conditions and rights as workers.

Hundreds of community health workers gathered at the parking lot at the Khayelitsha District Hospital to hand over their memorandum of demands to the director of the Khayelitsha and Eastern Substructure, Dr Michael Phillips on Friday February 7.

The workers come from various NGOs, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) and the National Union of Care Workers of SA (NUCWOSA) and say it is unacceptable that the government is putting their health at risk.

The NGOs, TB/HIV Care, St Lukes, Khethimpilo, Masincedane Community Service, St Johns, Philani Nutrition Centre, the South African Christian Leadership Assembly and Caring Network have urged the Department of Health to be more proactive and improve the safety of care workers in the townships.

The irate workers protested outside the hospital. They sang and waved placards with slogans such as: “Nothing about us without about us”, “Register us under persal (health and salary system)”, “Decent wages” and “Medical aid”.

Addressing the crowd, Cynthia Tikwayo said more needs to be done to improve the lives of workers.

She said among their demands is for the department to back ate their salaries.

She said their working conditions are appalling.

“We are doing all kinds of jobs. Basically we are nurses, doctors, caregivers, mothers. But after all the work we do we are not safe, we only have one T-shirt for the whole week. We demand our rights,” she said with applause from the crowd.

Ms Tikwayo said although carers have a serious challenge, she appreciates their work and never-say-die attitude to help out communities.

But she warned that if the department does not take them seriously, they might stage another march and down tools.

Counsellor at Maphongwana Hospital, Richman Nyangani said their workload is unbearable.

He said there are no relievers and one has to work long hours.

NUPSAW shop steward Mandla Oliphant added that community health workers are most effective in promoting disease control when provided with education and support.

He explained that in 2018 at the bargaining chamber it was agreed that the salaries of community care workers were going to be standardised. He said then, it was agreed that they would be paid R3 500.

Mr Oliphant said before that, the NGOs were paying the care workers what they wanted.

“So the care workers demand the money between when the resolution was signed and April 2019,” he said.

Resident and patient Nokwanda Tshumlisi said she was worried about the workers.

“They are exposed to many things like rape and robbery. Others, like those who travel long distances by foot, could seriously be hurt by our own sons.

“ It would be good if the government can provide them with cars. Imagine walking a long distance to a patient on foot. Imagine when it is too hot and on rainy days but one has to walk.

“It is unfair on their part. They also should get more money for their services,” she said.

She said caregivers play a crucial role in the community.

Among their demands, the workers want to work for the Department of Health directly, with standardised job descriptions, full recognition of all community health workers as professionals, job security, reduced working hours, reduced working hours, full provision for occupational health and safety, and be paid the back-dated wage increase.

The marchers gave the officials 10 days to respond to their demands.