Health workers say they have to meet their supervisors under a tree in Khayelitsha

They are picketing for better working conditions and wages

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This is the spot where community healthcare workers say they have to exchange patient information and collect medication from their supervisors because they have nowhere else to work. They picketed outside Michael Mapongwana Community Health Care in Khayelitsha on Monday. Photo: Vincent Lali

  • Over a dozen community healthcare workers picketed outside Michael Mapongwana Community Health Care in Khayelitsha on Monday.
  • They were demanding better working conditions and personal protective equipment.
  • The group say with no proper place of work, they have to meet their supervisors under a tree.
  • On Thursday, NEHAWU will lead marches nationwide to demand that community health workers be formally employed by the health department.

Over a dozen community healthcare workers (CHW) picketed outside the Michael Mapongwana Community Health Care in Khayelitsha on Monday, demanding better working conditions and safety equipment.

The picket comes as thousands of healthcare workers from across the country are expected to take to the streets, supported by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) on Thursday.

Cynthia Tikwayo, chairperson of Western Cape CHWs under the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) says they have been working without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) since July.

“After contracting Covid-19 in June, I stayed at home and self-isolated. When I returned to work in July, I found that the workers were not getting PPE. Now the NGOs say they don’t have masks and sanitisers for us. We have to buy it out of our own pockets,” she said.

Tikwayo said they often meet NGO managers under a tree near the clinic because clinic management says there is no space for them. “Our supervisors collect stats, check if every worker is available, and bring us medications under the tree whether it’s hot or cold.”

Sister Chanel Bangiso, a supervisor at St. Luke’s Day Hospice in Ilitha Park, said that when she joined the community health care workers in December last year, they were already meeting under the tree.

“When you have to reprimand a worker for a misdemeanour, you have to do so in front of others. Alternatively, you use your car and reprimand them.”

Western Cape NUPSAW Acting Secretary Phakamani Soldaka said they want the health department to hire them on salary level two (R8,500 per month) “as an interim solution to our demand of salary level five”.

In a statement on Tuesday, NEHAWU said it is demanding that the health department permanently employ CHWs. “The Health Council which is attended by the Minister and the nine MEC’s from provinces will be meeting on the 26 November 2020 to discuss the matter of these workers.

“With the coronavirus infection numbers soaring again, these workers will be called on again to assist the most vulnerable population of our society. They will be expected to continue with screening, testing, treating and disseminating information to communities. The government cannot continue to exploit these workers without remunerating them decent salaries and not the meagre R3,500 they have been subjected to for years,” the statement read.

Sithembiso Magubane, head of communications in Khayelitsha for the Western Cape Department of Health, said that appropriate protective equipment for the level of work done by community health workers has been provided. Magubane said it was the responsibility of managers at NPOs to order PPE for carers.

“All workers which includes staff members from Michael Mapongwana do Covid-19 screening and triaging outside the facility when the weather allows, so it is not specific to the CHW’s.”

Disclaimer: This article was updated after publication to include comment from the health department.

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