Contract workers demanded to be permanently employed by the Gauteng Department of Health. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Amid a pre-election wave of protests across the country, about 500 community healthcare workers who are contractual employees of the Gauteng Department of Health blocked Joburg city streets, demanding that the health MEC come to address them and accept a memorandum of their demands.

Sibusiso Nkasa, Johannesburg regional chairperson of the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw), which is leading the strike action, said: “We are resolute. As you can see all roads are closed. All gates have been barricaded, none can go in and no one can walk out.”

Roads barricaded during the rowdy but largely peaceful protest were around the square block of Ntemi Piliso, Commissioner, Kort streets and Albertina Sisulu Road in the Johannesburg inner city.

Shops within the block were barricaded and no-one could leave the precinct or enter through its gates.

Pointing in the direction of the striking workers, Nkasa said: “All these community healthcare workers are members of Nupsaw. Nupsaw is affiliated to Saftu (South African Federation of Trade Unions).”

Nkasa told the Sunday Independent workers want to be permanently employed by the department. “We are here to demand permanent status. We want workers put into permanent posts.”

Nkasa said Nupsaw had been in discussions with the Gauteng department of health and reached a resolution last year at the bargaining council to elevate community primary healthcare workers from contractual to permanent status.

He accused the department of reneging on the agreement and not responding to their communication concerning their demands.

“The department is not responding. They promised to revert to us. We’ve granted them time and they have not come back to us. They are not even willing to come out and address us. The department has been reluctant to come on board and actually resolve some of the issues which go hand-in-hand with the (June) resolution. We are waiting for a response from the department.”

He said the workers’ demands included:

A R3500 a month stipend with “permanent status”.

Elevation to level-5 remuneration rate, which means R12000 a month.

The department to share their employee database details with Nupsaw.

Implementation of the June 2018 resolution reached with the department and a resolution to all these matters by the end of June.

He said: “Workers want to ensure that, come end of June, they are permanent. We are concerned that when the administration of the province changes hands (after the elections on May 8), when a new administration comes in they may not recognise the permanent status of the workers. So, all the more reason it must be resolved now. The Smart Purse contract will fall away come May 1.”

Nkasa denied the workers represented by his union were opportunistic in their labour action so close to the poll date.

“This thing started way back. They (workers) started way back, as far back as 2015, 2016. They have come a long way to earn the R3500 they earn presently plus level-5 status which we are pushing for. At some stage we have to be listened to.”

Several attempts to contact the spokesperson for MEC Gwen Ramokgopa were fruitless.

However, Gauteng department spokesperson Vuyo Sabani, who does not speak for the MEC in her official capacity - and there seems to be much confusion and uncertainty in the department regarding line responsibilities of spokespeople - said: “That issue is being dealt with at the level of the national Department of Health. It concerns community healthcare workers.”

Though the Sunday Independent informed Sabani that the Nupsaw-led community healthcare workers had made it clear they wanted Ramokgopa to address them and that they were contractually employed by the Gauteng department of health, he insisted that we direct our enquiries to Popo Maja, the spokesperson for Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Maja said though he could not confirm if Ramokgopa had had any talks with Motsoaledi concerning the absorption of contractual workers into permanent employment, he could confirm that many of the workers had “been absorbed on renewable contracts at minimum wage of R3500”.

Said Maja: “Unfortunately, the national fiscus is unable to absorb all 53000 of them.”

Efforts to reach Khutso Rabothata, head of communications in MEC Ramokgopa’s office, his colleagues Lesemang Matuka and Khanyisa Nkuna and Professor Mkhululi Lukhele, head of department’s office, were unsuccessful by the time of publication.

Sunday Independent