Workers call for department to employ them

Community health care workers picketed outside Khayelitsha District Hospital, demanding to be employed by the provincial Department of Health.

Members of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NUPSAW) held a peaceful picket outside Khayelitsha District Hospital on Thursday June 18, demanding they be permanently employed by the Department of Health.

The union says community health care workers play a vital role in rendering primary health care services and were the ones tracing, screening and testing patients who live in high risk areas.

NUPSAW provincial organiser, Vuyani Shwane, said these community health workers are contracted by various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and they were earning “peanuts”.

Mr Shwane said it was the constitutional mandate of the Department of Health to provide primary health care to its clientele.

He said it was therefore on the basis of their “consistent patriotic work ethic” that community health care workers ought to be afforded a descent basic minimum wage and the dignified treatment they deserved.

He said in other provinces the community health workers had been employed by the Department of Health but accused the Western Cape health department of being “stubborn” and refusing to do the same.

Currently, he said, community health workers were not entitled to UIF or other benefits like workman’s compensation, which meant they could not claim if injured in the line of duty.

He said some of their members had been robbed and attacked while performing their duties. “We are calling for a R2 000 danger allowance to be made available to the community workers,” he said.

“We want these workers to be employed permanently.

“These people are earning R3 500 while rendering primary health care.

“We are going to fight this battle tooth and nail. If we have to go to court for this matter, we are willing to do so.”

He also raised his concerns about personal protective equipment issued to the community health care workers.

“In this difficult time, our members are given these N95 masks and expected to wear them for seven days. Our workers are not screened and tested for (the coronavirus),” said Mr Shwane.

Community health care worker Cynthia Tikwayo echoed the concerns that their working conditions were not ideal, they were paid very little and that they were not entitled to compensation if injured while working.

Department of Health spokesperson, Maret Lesch, said the Western Cape community-based health system is based on a network of non-profit organisations (NPOs) who employ community health workers (CHWs) and that the department has a service level agreement with each NPO, which is carefully monitored.

“Our philosophy is based on building trusting relationships with NPOs and monitoring the performance, including the fair treatment of workers.

“The department regularly engages with NPOs on the direction and role of NPOs and CHWs in the community-based health system. We recognise the importance of these workers and their value to our health system,” she said.