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To: National Minister of Health

Pledge Solidarity with Eastern Cape Community Health Workers

Pledge Solidarity with Eastern Cape Community Health Workers

We, the undersigned, are outraged to learn of the shooting of Community Health Workers in Bhisho, Eastern Cape and pledge our support and solidarity with CHW who are demanding a living wage, permanent employment and formal recognition as healthcare workers.

On Thursday evening 16 July at 7:35pm, Community Health Workers (CHW), engaged in a struggle for a living wage and permanent employment, were met with rubber bullets, forced out of the EC DOH Bhisho offices and left stranded in the freezing cold winter night to walk many kilometers to find shelter and assistance.

CHW have been at the forefront of the health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. CHW’s are predominantly older women workers who work long hours, with little pay, providing vital health services to their community And yet they remain casual workers, often earning as little as R3500 per month. The struggle by CHW to become permanent employees, to earn a living wage and to be provided with safe work environments (including PPE) did not start with the COVID pandemic. It is a struggle they have waged since 2002 throughout the country. While the South African NDOH (and the President in his recent public address to the nation) has lauded the work of CHW who performed COVID screening for millions of South Africans, and claims to centre health provision on a community based, Primary Health Care approach, they have continued to abuse and exploit this most vulnerable part of the health workforce.

This most recent phase of the struggle for recognition and permanent employment has been ongoing for weeks, culminating with a memorandum handed over to the EC MEC of Health, Sindiswa Gomba on Wednesday 6 July. Numerous attempts at communication and requests for meetings to engage with this memorandum have been systematically ignored by the EC DOH. CHW have limited access to the normal processes of labour dispute as they are not recognised by the bargaining council and have limited representation in unions who organise in the health sector due to their casual status and lack of formal recognition. With few avenues for taking forward their grievances and in frustration at the lack of any communication after the deliver of their memorandum, CHW went to the EC DOH offices to meet directly with the MEC, culminating in the occupation of their offices. This peaceful occupation, for legitimate labour demands by women workers who are truly our frontline during this pandemic, was met with bullets, beatings and threats of arrest. And this is not the first time CHW’s have been met with a heavy hand by the state. In 2014, over 100 middle aged and elderly CHW’s were arrested in Bloemfontein after protesting the collapse of the health system and their conditions of work.

We can no longer tolerate a situation where our state, far from being an example of good labour practice, is responsible for the casualisation of work and the exploitation of the mainly women workers who are leading grassroots healthcare provision in our communities. CHW’s demands, in the Eastern Cape and in the rest of the country, for secure employment and a living wage must be met, with immediate effect. We note the recent permanent employment of CHW in Gauteng as a step in the right direction and hereby demand an end to regional disparities in the pay, recognition and integration of CHW into the workforce of the National Department of Health.

Further, we call on all our healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, dentists, laboratory technicians and social workers to stand in solidarity with our CHW. As we have shown our support for senior health workers who have spoken out about the injustices at poor levels of care in our health system, we should now also stand with our community health workers. We cannot build a People Centred health system or a People Centred response to COVID-19 without CHW.

Finally, with regard to the shameful actions that took place in Bhisho on 16 July, we demand accountability for this gross abuse of power, through a full investigation into the decision to deploy police to arrest and shoot at CHW, and appropriate sanction of all those responsible for this decision.

Why is this important?

We can no longer tolerate a situation where our state, far from being an example of good labour practice, is responsible for the casualisation of work and the exploitation of the mainly women workers who are leading grassroots healthcare provision in our communities. CHW’s demands, in the Eastern Cape and in the rest of the country, for secure employment and a living wage must be met, with immediate effect. We note the recent permanent employment of CHW in Gauteng as a step in the right direction and hereby demand an end to regional disparities in the pay, recognition and integration of CHW into the workforce of the National Department of Health.


Reasons for signing

  • Demanding permanent employment from our government.
  • Community health workers are the backbone of the primary health care system. Community health workers have struggled for permanent and decent work for over ten years. This abuse of vulnerable workers is outrageous and unacceptable.
  • Because i want to be employed

Updates

2020-07-19 14:13:50 +0200

500 signatures reached

2020-07-18 10:53:03 +0200

100 signatures reached

2020-07-18 10:01:44 +0200

50 signatures reached

2020-07-18 09:36:10 +0200

25 signatures reached

2020-07-18 09:06:35 +0200

10 signatures reached