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Nurses take their fight over poor working conditions to the National Treasury, Health Department

At the top of their demands, the union wants all health-care workers contracted during the Covid-19 pandemic to be permanently employed, including professional nurses, who have completed their community service in all nine provinces. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)

At the top of their demands, the union wants all health-care workers contracted during the Covid-19 pandemic to be permanently employed, including professional nurses, who have completed their community service in all nine provinces. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 5, 2022

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Cape Town - Overworked, stressed, underpaid and at the forefront of the worst pandemic the country has faced. This is how a nursing union has described the state of nurses at public health facilities across the country.

The Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union took the nurses’ grievances and struggles to the National Treasury and the National Health Department in Pretoria to demand better working conditions, an increased health budget, and an end to austerity measures in the health-care sector.

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At the top of their demands, the union wants all health-care workers contracted during the Covid-19 pandemic to be permanently employed, including professional nurses, who have completed their community service in all nine provinces. They also demanded the insourcing of security services at health-care facilities.

The union’s general secretary, Lerato Mthunzi, said National Treasury must know that austerity measures that cut the budget for jobs in health care impacted on innocent patients. Mthunzi said health-care facilities were faced severe staff shortages, with contracts of community service professional nurses terminated. She said this was an insult to the public.

“Health-care workers have, beyond reasonable doubt, proven that they are indeed the backbone of the healthcare system. Amid all their struggles and sacrifices, they are still excluded economically, and they are sentenced to permanent poverty and career stagnation by the SA Nursing Council and Council on Higher Education,” she said.

The provincial Health and Wellness Department had also recently come under fire for dismissing community health-care workers who had worked throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, while concerns over the safety of workers in health-care facilities had also been raised.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa recently called for improved security services at health facilities.

The call followed a series of robberies, burglaries, and vandalism that had crippled health-care services, particularly in townships.

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In March this year, about 120 post-community nursing practitioners, supported by the EFF labour desk, protested in front of the legislature over the health department’s termination of contracts, ostensibly due to delayed nursing membership certificates issued by the SA Nursing Council.

Also in March, the provincial Health and Wellness Department was called on to intervene and investigate the alleged unfair dismissal of more than 120 outsourced porters at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Last year, nurses affiliated with the provincial Denosa Student Movement, staged a sit-in at the department’s offices over the non-absorption of more than 130 Community Service Practitioner Nurses by the department.

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EFF labour desk leader Nosipho Makamba-Botya said the exploitation of community health-care workers and non-permanent nurses was concerning.

Makamba-Botya said in the province, when the Health Department is under strain and in crisis, the first people they turn to for assistance are these workers.

“These workers are always used on an ad hoc basis and, despite their hard work and their need within the sector, they are never awarded permanent posts. These are workers who have dedicated their lives to serve the poor and those who are sick but, at the end of it all, they continue struggling to make ends meet, as they are subjected to poverty that is akin to slavery,” she said.

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Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Mark van der Heever said, with all provinces, any cut in budget allocation was felt throughout the service, whether within the provision of goods and services or personnel expenditure.

Van der Heever said the province, like other provinces, experiences some form of vacancy rate across all occupations, with the current department’s vacancy rate for nursing hovering around 7-8%.

He said this was about 900 vacant funded posts across the province, versus 14 180 filled posts. Van der Heever said this was a common occurrence internationally and nationally.

“Vacancies are filled continuously in response to the service demands. This applies to all funded vacant posts,” he said.

Van der Heever said during the Covid-19 pandemic, the department offered contract positions to support the staff in combating the pandemic and that these were linked to a particular time-frame, as stipulated in the contracts.

“In addition, during interviews, we also renewed several contracts to support our staff in other health service areas, including the vaccination programme,” he said.

Regarding safety, Van der Heever alluded that staff were exposed to a range of threats on a daily basis and that they continued to go beyond their call to ensure health services are rendered.

“Where and when reported, our security staff intervene to safeguard our staff and, if need be, also involve SAPS when required,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Treasury said it does not respond to memorandums given by trade unions via media. The national Health Department was approached for comment but failed to respond by the time of publication.

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