As South Africa’s COVID-19 coronavirus numbers continue to rise, City Press reports that long-simmering healthcare worker complaints are boiling over. Tiyese Jeranji spoke to trade union representatives from Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of SA (Hospersa), Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), and Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU), about salary disputes, staff shortages, worker safety, psychological strain and access to personal protective equipment.
Access to appropriate personal perspective equipment (PPE) has been a key concern for healthcare workers since the early days of South Africa’s COVID-19 epidemic. But, City Press reports, as representatives from the unions explain, access to PPE is not the only issue. Among others, unions are also in a salary dispute with government and concerned about staff shortages, health worker safety and the psychological strain workers are under.
According to Kevin Halama, the spokesperson for Hospera, the public healthcare system has many serious challenges. And Rich Sicina, a nurse and general secretary of YNITU, says one can’t talk about the struggles of healthcare workers without talking about PPE. According to Sicina, the public healthcare system is already overwhelmed in places.
The report says Khaya Xaba, spokesperson for Nehawu, echoes these concerns. But, he adds what is even more worrying, says Xaba, is the incorrect usage of PPE.
City Press reports that unions also called for healthcare workers to be provided with a tax exemption during the fight against COVID-19. “We are not sending government to the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund,” says YNITU’s Sicina. “We are just asking them to stop deducting our tax as we fight COVID-19. We even asked for just a six-month tax exemption because this will go a long way for us. Even just a once-off incentive will mean a lot, but government doesn’t care or even appreciate us risking our lives and those of our families in this pandemic. Instead, when you fight for what is right, you are intimidated.”
Sibongiseni Delihlazo, spokesperson for Denosa, says their main concerns is that PPE is being kept in storerooms. “For what reason, we don’t know. But when the MEC or the minister is visiting, everyone gets PPE,” he says. “Managers must plan properly and place workers where there is no risk for them, especially those who are old and have comorbidities. Managers must not expose those with underlying conditions. The problem is that personal health matters are matters of confidentiality, but now workers need to talk about their comorbidities.
Full City Press report