Emotions ran high among striking health care community workers who vowed to keep clinics in Port Alfred and Bathurst closed when they met with labour relations official Bongani Lose at Titi Jonas Hall in Thornhill hall last Friday.
The health care workers, who are members of the National Education, and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), went on strike and shut down clinics last week, demanding that the provincial health department absorb them as permanent employees as their contracts are nearing an end in March.
Lose travelled from Bhisho to give province’s response to the workers’ demands, while also attempting to convince them open clinics and resume their duties.
The meeting was also attended by ward councillors from the affected areas, including Ward 9 councillor Siyabulela Melani, Ward 5 councillor Andile Marasi, Ward 6 councillor Mkhulisi Raco and Ward 7 councillor Mbuyiseli Yali.
Delivering feedback, Lose said: “The province says it is not able to absorb health care community workers until the task team in Pretoria finalises its outcomes. The discussions leading to the permanent employment of Health Care Community Workers are still underway.”
Lose went on to say the province was still figuring out how it would absorb the employees according to their levels based on their qualifications. He further avoided giving empty promises.
“So I, Lose cannot say you will be employed on April 1 because the discussions between the employer and the employee have not been finalised yet,” he said.
Lose’s feedback did not go down well with employees who made it clear that they did not know what will happen after March as their contracts end next month.
Fuming protestors challenged Lose, asking as to why it was impossible for the Eastern Cape absorb them when Gauteng had already done so.
In response, Lose said the highest decision making board of health wrote a letter to Johannesburg stating that it did welcome the decision taken by Gauteng to absorb health care community workers.
Lose’s explanations continued meeting strong opposition from the angry strikers. One protestor who did not mention her name said: “This is an old answer. We are closing the clinics until the task team finalises its discussions. We want permanent letters. Do not tell us about Covid-19 – we experience it more than you do while serving the community. When we are infected we call each other. At least you have a medical aid.”
Ward 5 Councillor Andile Marasi asked Lose as to why the task team waited for the protest before updating the workers on the progress being done by the task team. He went on to question the rationality behind paying health care community workers less than what the domestic workers are earning.
“Some of these people are educated and have qualifications,” he said.
Another complaint raised in the meeting was that people who are especially employed to assist during Covid-19 are earning the same salary as long serving employees even though they were not even trained.