Hundreds of nurses picketed outside the provincial Department of Health call centre in East London last week, claiming they were owed a special rural allowance, reports GroundUp.
“For the past three years we have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID without salary increments … or the rural allowances due to us,” said Thembinkosi Qwakanisa from the Amathole region.
Qwakanisa was just one among the many protesting nurses from rural hospitals and clinics across the Eastern Cape. They said they should be paid rural allowances of 8% to 12%, which they believe will also attract more nursing professionals to work in rural areas.
The nurses claim the allowance is part of an agreement made between unions and the provincial health department at a 2019 bargaining council. They accuse health department head Dr Rolene Wagner of ignoring them.
“Wagner is taking us backwards. Instead of paying, she is dragging this matter back to negotiating tables. Even if we agree to renegotiate, they can start from what was agreed in 2019,” said Qwakanisa.
Thandile Tshabalala, chairperson for enrolled nurses and nursing assistants, said the allowance used to be paid to all nurses working in rural areas but was stopped in 2007.
“We then fought for years for its reinstatement, but it was only reinstated for other categories, like the professional (staff) nurses only,” she said. “We continued the fight, which was led by the union (NEHAWU) until 2019, when the department conceded in the bargaining council that we were entitled to this allowance. But it was poorly implemented in five regions because only a few nurses were receiving it.”
Tshabalala said about 5,000 enrolled nurses and their assistants are meant to get the rural allowances, adding they had tried on several occasions to approach Wagner, to no avail.
Department spokesperson Yonela Dekeda told GroundUp that Wagner was not aware of the nurses’ requests to discuss the matter with her.
“According to department officials, there was no agreement reached with the protesting group in 2019. The department is aiming to have a solution on this by the end of June,” said Dekeda.
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