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Community healthcare workers want to be public servants

“They take care of the frail, the sick within our communities; they bath them and make sure they have access to their medication”

Photo of protesters
About 80 community healthcare workers marched from Keizersgracht to the provincial legislature on Thursday demanding to be integrated to the public service by the Department of Health. Photo: Thembela Ntongana
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About 80 community healthcare workers marched to the provincial legislature on Thursday demanding to be integrated as public servants in the Department of Health.

Represented by the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers union (NUPSAW), they marched and sang: “How are we supposed to work in these conditions?”

Community healthcare workers are primarily responsible for home visits to make sure that vulnerable people are getting adequate care and do not fall through the cracks in the state’s health system. The workers are currently paid stipends by the Department of Health (sometimes via NGOs).

In a memorandum, the workers demanded integration as public servants at salary level 3 with all the normal conditions of employment. They want danger allowances, R250 a month for airtime, and transport to health facilities and home visits.

They have also asked for the department to provide accredited training in order for them to be registered with the South African Nursing Council.

NUPSAW provincial organiser Omar Parker said the workers were “vulnerable”, delivered an important service in terms of primary healthcare, and formed an important component within the health sector. “They take care of the frail, the sick within our communities; they bath them and make sure they have access to their medication … Yet the government doesn’t recognise them as public servants,” he said.

“These workers are working under difficult conditions; they are subjected to harassment by criminal elements in our communities, and yet they do not have the protection under the occupational health and safety act,” said Parker.

The campaign to have the workers recognised as public servants started two years ago. He said last year the Department of Health had agreed to a policy framework for the implementation to integrate the workers in April.

“But now, to our dismay the government has come back to us to say that they do not have the necessary funding and that there are financial constraints and [they] cannot afford to honour the agreement to integrate the workers … We say this is an insult,” said Parker.

Ayanda Fatman has been working as a community healthcare worker for four years. He earns R1,700 a month. He supports three children. He works in a clinic in Khayelitsha and is one of the few male community health care workers there.

“When someone defaults when on TB treatment, it is not nurses that make sure that person gets back on treatment. It is us,” said Fatman.

Cynthia Tikwayo works under the organisation TB/HIV Care Association and earns R1,800 a month. She supports four children. She works four and half hours a day and visits about 43 patients a week.

“We work in the informal settlements where our safety in not guaranteed. You are given a shack number and you are supposed to go and look for it. If you don’t find it, then they say you didn’t work … We use our own airtime to call people. We risk our lives on a daily basis,” said Tikwayo.

The workers’ memorandum was signed and received by the head of the Western Cape Ministry of Health Douglas Newman-Valentine. He said he will forward the memorandum to the relevant structures and respond within the given deadline.

NUPSAW has given the department until 10 May to respond.

See also: Health care workers fight for recognition by department

Topics:  Health

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