On Monday 06 July at 9am, Eastern Cape Community Health Care Workers together with other civic organizations handed over a Memorandum to the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDOH), to demand permanent employment and a living wage. Instead of receiving their demands, the ECDoH sent the police to meet the Community Health Workers. At 5pm, eight hours after the start of their protest and their expressed determination to occupy the Dukhumbane building, did the SG, Dr Thobile Mbengashe condescend to receive their memorandum.
CHWs who came together under the umbrella ‘United Community Health Workers of the Eastern Cape’, gave Mbengashe and ECDoH seven working days to respond to their demands. These are not new demands. CHWs in the Eastern Cape have been working on contracts for low wages for many years. They were incorporated into ECDoH on annual short-term contracts since 2012. Then they were paid R700 per month and a loaf of bread! Eight years later they are paid the minimum wage – R3500 per month. They have no benefits – no pension, no medical aid, no housing allowance, nothing.
In a province where the numbers of people infected by COVID 19 are rising daily and the health system is collapsing, one would think that the SG and the MEC would take time to listen to frontline health workers. Instead, CHWs and their unions, have been treated with careless disregard. To date there has been no communication from the Eastern Cape Health Department to CHWs and their representatives.
In contrast with this callousness, CHWs have remained committed. CHWs are the ones doing Covid-19 screening and contact tracing. They are also doing the contact tracing for TB, MDR-TB, HIV and other illnesses. CHWs are the health workers who assist patients to take their treatment and are motivating defaulters, often bringing them food from their own homes. They encourage new mothers to bring their babies for immunisation. They are health workers who care.
And then they are also the frontline health workers with little, if any, PPE and who get infected and sometimes die. And their families are the people who remain with nothing.
This is not only the story of the Eastern Cape. Whilst some Community Health Workers in Gauteng have been permanently employed, CHW in other parts of South Africa continue to work precariously. It is now time that this abuse of CHWs stop.
Recognise the difficult and at times, dangerous work CHWs do!
Recognise their love and care for their patients and communities!
Employ CHWs permanently at a living wage!
Make adequate PPE available to all CHWs.
SAFTU commits to the struggles of community health workers across the country and to building a campaign to escalate their demands with workers and civil society.
No Turning back, No Compromise!