SAFTU statement on the International Day of the Nurse

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) on this day, the world is celebrating the International Day of the Nurse and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, join millions of the world citizens, in saluting the nurses here in our country South Africa and the world over.

There could not be a more appropriate theme to mark this historic day than the one chosen by the World Health Organisation – “Nursing the World to Health”.
This year we celebrate the International Day of the Nurse and Midwife under the most trying conditions the humankind has had to face. Most of the countries are on lockdown as part of a fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected over 4.2 million and with 286 000 have died with 1.4 million recoveries.
In our country, the numbers have climbed to 11 350 with 206 deaths and 4 357 recoveries. These figures are rapidly worsening.

On the cold face of this epidemic are the brave daughters and sons of the soil, the nurses and other front-liners who have decided as part of the vow they took to protect the humankind, throw their entire being on the line to prevent the spread of the virus, nurse the sick, counsel the traumatised and console those that have lost their loved ones. These brave and gallant fighters have done this with little regard to their own health and safety and the safety of their families.

The bravery of the nurses in the face of death is nothing but a revolutionary act of love for humankind. Che Guevara said “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” The nurses have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they live the best values of our people – ubuntu, selflessness, sacrifices, tenacity in the face of endless provocations and betrayals from their employer.

It is a shame that the government is also marking this historic day while on the other hand demoralising and the nurses and other healthcare workers. SAFTU condemns the government which is hellbent on undermining the nurses and the entire healthcare workers:

1. In the face of the pandemic, the government could not keep the promise made to the front-liners that they will be provided with the adequate Personal Protective Equipment. As a result, many front-liners are now infected and dying.
2. The working conditions of healthcare workers cannot be any better. The front-liners have had to contend with chronic understaffed, under-resourced and scandalously overcrowded public hospitals with dilapidated and inadequate infrastructure, declining numbers of health professionals and unimaginable workload that has caused them stress and related diseases.
3. Government as part of its total commitment to austerity and austerity cut R161 billion from the wages of all workers. The government did this by unilaterally withdrawing from a signed agreement with its own workers. In the process, it has provided a terrible precedence to the employers in the private sector to do the same.
4. Government has maintained a two dire healthcare system. ‘Government spending on health care comprises less than half of total health expenditure even though the public system serves more than 80% of the population (i.e. around 40 million South Africans) without private health insurance. Around 70% of all doctors and most specialists only work in the private sector, the remaining 30% serve the public sector.
5. Sixteen per cent of the population use private doctors and hospitals which are covered by their health insurance, often with a monthly contribution from their employers. Their premiums and direct payments to health providers (about a third of which are not reimbursed) cost in total about R11 000 each year.
6. The public sector covers 68% of people who do not use any private care at all, spending about R1900 per person. Another 16% of the population rely on the public sector for hospital care but use the private sector for primary care, paying out of their own pockets, with total spending about R2500 per person.’
7. Nurses make up the largest group of healthcare providers in South Africa. The performance of any healthcare system is directly dependent on the quality of care afforded by these healthcare professionals. Yet in 2015, a report by the University of Witwatersrand revealed that over 60% of nurses admitted reporting that they felt too tired to work while on duty. According to the study, this could be linked to the 70% of South African nurses who admitted to ‘moonlighting’ or working overtime due to a massive skills shortage in this under-resourced sector.

As we celebrate the International Nurses Day let us rededicate ourselves to a struggle to ensure that these inequalities are eliminated. Let us continue the struggle for a single, free and high-quality public healthcare system. In this regard, we reiterate our call that the government must nationalise the private clinics and hospitals

We vow to live no stone unturned and to spare no energy in the struggle for decent working conditions of these warriors and call on the working class to honour all the healthcare workers by ensuring that the government pays them a living wage and improve their working conditions and living standards so that they may continue to serve the population.

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