Durban -Teacher unions are determined to free government employees from being tied down to the state-owned Government Employees Medical Aid Scheme (Gems), after an overwhelming number of complaints had been received from their members over scheme’s incompetence.
Many members were considering cancelling their medical aid, due to problems that they had been experiencing, including being turned away by practitioners and funds being exhausted early in the year.
Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union, said frustrated members were considering not having a medical aid at all, but this was “worrying because more people without medical aid would crowd public hospitals even more”.
Thompson added that their mission was to prove in court that it was unlawful for the government to infringe on workers’ rights by withholding a portion of their allowance if they chose to be on another medical aid.
He said the union had filed papers in the Labour Court last year and had not been allocated a court date whereby they could argue the matter in court. As a result, they had written to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng requesting an early date in court.
Thompson said it was unfair that government employees on the Gems medical aid received a subsidy of about R3 800, while employees on private medical aids received about R1 114.
“We want workers to be given the same allowance, regardless of which medical aid they choose. We want workers on other medical aids to be refunded the portion that they were deprived of as from April 1, 2006,” said Thompson.
Minister of Public Services Ayanda Dlodlo has been asked to intervene in unfair competition in the medical aid sector, caused by the government restricting its employees to belonging to Gems, or losing a portion of their medical aid subsidy.
The Educators’ Union of South Africa (Eusa) is expected to meet Dlodlo in Pretoria on Tuesday.
The union had also said it wanted Dlodlo to launch a forensic investigation into Gems operations and leadership.
Eusa president Scelo Issac Bhengu said that, in addition, they wanted Dlodlo to address the competition issue, as Gems had become a giant with no competition in the sector.
“The workers have been calling for their employer to release them from Gems and give them the freedom to join (other) medical aids. They fear losing a chunk of their allowance,” he added.
The union had met with the Gems principals earlier this year and discussed worker frustrations, which included members being forced by medical practitioners to pay cash, due to delays in payments.
Dr Guni Goolab, of Gems, had attributed some of the members’ complaints to the defrauding of medical aids, which was a problem for all schemes.
Thirona Moodley, of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said Gems had had attractive benefits at first, as it was a cheaper choice, had no waiting period and accepted members’ parents aged up to 80, but “the scheme is no longer attractive and the equalisation of medical aids is a fight we are determined to win”.