Care home in row over layoffs

The Aryan Benevolent Home in Chatsworth has served people in need for more than 100 years. Now it needs help to survive. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ Independent Newspapers

The Aryan Benevolent Home in Chatsworth has served people in need for more than 100 years. Now it needs help to survive. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 7, 2024


Durban — The Aryan Benevolent Home (ABH) is buckling under financial stress, raising concerns about its ability to deliver quality treatment to the frail, elderly and disabled residents in its care.

The ABH, which has served communities in Durban for more than a century, recently retrenched at least 60 people from its main facility in Chatsworth, citing financial strain.

However, health industry unions the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) claim the non-profit organisation (NPO) acted in bad faith when it retrenched the caregivers and nursing assistants by flouting several labour regulations.

Retrenched workers this week painted a grim picture of a facility understaffed even before the retrenchments which leave a ratio of “52 patients to one nurse”. They also expressed concern about hygiene practices, food safety and unsafe use of borehole water, all claims refuted by the ABH.

ABH general manager Ray Naguran dismissed the claims as the talk of disgruntled workers. He said the retrenchments were carefully considered, keeping in mind the organisation’s financial sustainability with a focus on maintaining the highest standards of care for its residents.

“The ABH, as with all NPOs, has been confronted with multiple challenges which include rising costs of basic essential food and care items, inflation, medical cost increases and notification of cuts to subsidies from the Department of Social Development. These challenges, beyond the control of the ABH, have necessitated an organisational restructure of all of the home’s operations inclusive of retrenchments.”

Naguran said they currently had 262 workers and 354 patients and this was enough staff to fulfil all their duties.

“The home instituted a time-consuming and in-depth strategic review (which) noted that the staff-to-resident ratio was excessive. The workforce is now in line with the accepted norms for staff-to-resident ratios as per the Department of Social Development.

“The ABH wants to assure the public that the restructure of the home’s operations in no way compromises our service levels offered to our residents. Families can rest assured that their loved ones are receiving the requisite care,” said Naguran.

This week the Independent on Saturday spoke to several retrenched workers who said they had been aware that retrenchments were on the cards and that staff would have to leave at the end of March.

However, they said when they arrived at work on February 26 they were handed retrenchment letters and told to leave. They were not paid for all days worked and the organisation retrenched those who had served the longest while those who had started recently were allowed to stay.

One employee said: “It’s unfair labour practice. They bring in people, they bring in consultants, but they say they don’t have money. They buy vehicles, but they don’t have money. They say they don’t have money but they build skyscrapers. We’ve been running at a loss for the last five years. Won’t you rather pay your staff and take care of your residents instead of putting up buildings that are not in use?”

Another former employee said they were all taking strain before the retrenchments and many who retained their jobs were looking to quit because they couldn’t cope with the extra workload.

Another concern raised was the lack of criteria for retrenchment.

“They were supposed to be talking with shop stewards. Even for a selection process, they’re supposed to have a selection team with them so we can see that it’s all done fairly. But there was no selection and I don’t know who came up with our names.”

Denosa’s full-time shop steward Andile Mbeje said they wanted the Labour Court to reinstate all the workers.

“There are many things wrong in that facility,” Mbeje said.

He said when approached, ABH kept changing its reasons for the staff cuts.

“First they said they were overstaffed but when we were doing the calculations in terms of the staff to patients ratio, it wasn’t matching. When we challenged them, they said they were having financial constraints but there were recent renovations in the facility and we asked if the priority was renovations or to retain staff. Then they said there is a category called ENA, the nurses that only did one year, and they said they don’t need their services anymore. But after they were retrenched, they re-employed three ENAs.”

He said retrenched workers were also not paid all their benefits. Mbeje said after a failed mediation process with the CCMA, the matter would now be decided by the Labour Court.

On Friday, ABH said despite its money problems, it was not on the brink of closure.

“The organisation has stood for 102 years, weathering many challenges, and this restructuring was made with the long-term sustainability of ABH in mind. We are confident that these measures will ensure we can continue our mission for years to come,” Naguran said.

Independent on Saturday