Durban - The KZN Health Department’s emergency medical response service could come to a standstill in a few weeks if paramedics’ demands are not met.
Speaking for 300 state paramedics from 11 districts in KwaZulu-Natal who protested in Durban on Friday, axed paramedic Sifiso Dlamini said that if the department failed to respond to their memorandum in seven days, they would shut down emergency services on June 18.
“We are prepared to approach the president because our cries have not been heard by the provincial or national departments (of health),” said Dlamini.
In February, Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo accused Dlamini of instigating a go-slow. He also said Dlamini had tried to attack him during his visit to Stanger Hospital to investigate mass absenteeism of paramedics who had booked off sick.
Representing some of these paramedics in disciplinary hearings, Sugen Moodley, of the National Union of Public and Allied Workers, said it was not true that the paramedics had not reported for duty but participated in an illegal strike.
“They were either off duty or had just got off their shifts like today. Others were genuinely off sick,” he said.
One of the paramedics’ grievances is overtime.
“We work 173 hours but are only paid for 160,” said Sthembiso Xaba, a paramedic from KwaMashu.
She added that their lives were in danger, yet the department was not paying them the danger allowance due to them.
“Sometimes we arrive at the scene and people are hostile, they throw stones at us. Instead of our safety being the number one concern, the department is more concerned about damage to its vehicles.
“We would not be here if we did not love what we do, but they are making fools of us.”
She said the once-off payment of danger allowances offered by the department was “an insult” and that the unions which had agreed to it were “selling us out”.
Moodley said his union was fully behind the paramedics and supported their demand for the danger allowance to be paid retrospectively from July 1, 2007.
The amount was R350 in 2007 but had grown to R500. “The department initially offered six months, but after mediation, said it would pay for 12 months,” he said.
This was not good enough because every time the paramedics went out, their lives were in danger, “not only from physical assault but from contracting diseases”.
During the protest, a memorandum was accepted on behalf of the MEC by the health department’s human resources manager, Nozipho Mthembu.
A spokesman for the department, Sam Mkhwanazi, said yesterday he had not been aware of the protest.