Pretoria - The CEO of Kalafong Hospital in Atteridgeville locked herself and her team in their office yesterday morning as Covid-19 support staff members intensified their protest for permanent absorption.
The professional nurses, general assistants, data capturers and cleaners took their protest inside the hospital after growing frustrated with Lebohang Mpshe, who is acting in the position, for not going outside to collect their memorandum.
They carried placards and burst into songs inside the hospital while doctors and other staff were carrying out their work. They said they loved their colleagues and patients, but all that could have been avoided if Mpshe went out to meet them.
They did not understand why it was easy for Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital chief executive Lucas Ndlovu to accept their memorandum at his hospital on Wednesday.
According to them, he helped them understand that their fate was in the hands of the Department of Health.
The police were eventually called to convince the crowd to protest at the gate and allow Mpshe work before safely escorting her to accept the memorandum.
Another demonstration ensued outside Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital simultaneously, while the staffers embarked on a go-slow at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital.
The group said the government had made them feel used, unwanted and exploited. They said government was eager to hire them to increase staff compliments in various health-care facilities across the county during the Covid-19 pandemic, but now their annual contracts had not been extended.
They said many of them risked their lives and contracted Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic, and some infected other people who lost their lives, but today the department found it easy to not extend their contracts.
The group included nurses and general assistants who worked in public hospitals for many years on contracts until they signed the Covid-19 support staff contracts during the pandemic. They have been calling for permanent positions for nearly a decade.
When Mpshe came out, national organiser of the Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union, Kagiso Phajane, advised her to never do something like that again as a leader of the hospital. When there was a protest at her hospital, it was her duty to drop everything and attend to it, Phajane said.
Mpshe received their memorandum and apologised for the misunderstanding, which she said should not be misunderstood for a lack of respect for them.
Professional nurse Helen Mboweni said: "This is so painful what they are doing to us. We are really tired of living like this. We were working like crazy and were very understaffed during Covid-19, and now they want to make that worse by letting some of us go."
General assistant Nancy Sutane said she had been signing contracts for nearly a decade and she could not take that any more.
"When they stopped those contracts, I came back on these Covid-19 support staff contracts. They need to address this problem and absorb us," she said.
Gauteng Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Motalatale Modiba said they would in the 2023/24 financial year use the R600 million Covid-19 Compensation of Employees budget to retain as many of the critical contract staff as possible.
He said this was also revealed by the MEC for Health and Wellness, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, when giving an oral response during the sitting of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature earlier in March.
He said the continued appointment of Covid-19 contract staff for the upcoming financial year was necessary to ensure improvement in clinical outcomes and patient experience of care. However, the appointments would be based on critical, prioritised and urgent service needs at each facility based on the budget allocated.
Considering the reduction of the current budget and the competing priorities across service centres, there was a need to reprioritise the capacity requirements so as to optimise limited resources.
He said the department had requested a R1.1 billion budget to retain the Covid-19 support staff, but they only received R600m. They communicated the budget cut to all the chief executives at facilities and to organised labour.
All hospitals had submitted their needs according to their prioritisation. However, there had been an agreement on the prioritisation of clinical posts across all hospitals, and as a result all doctors and nurses currently contracted would be retained.