Nehawu in North West demands permanent employment of community health workers

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The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) is demanding the permanent appointment of more than 6 000 community health workers currently employed by the North West Health Department. Some of the workers have been with the department for more than 10 years assisting in its community outreach programme.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, they have been tracing contacts and undertaking screening at various community health centres.  Nehawu’s demand for the provincial health department to permanently appoint community health workers is gaining momentum.

The union says the matter had been raised some years back, but there appeared to be no commitment from authorities.

Treatment of workers 

Lorato Sampisi is a community health worker, based at the Montshiwa town clinic. She has been working as a community health worker for eight years. Sampisi is among those demanding to be employed permanently.

“We are counsellors who are earning a stipend and we cannot afford as parents back at home to maintain our kids. We cannot also focus fully on our jobs because we are demoralised by the treatment that we are given by the department, by giving lesser payment to community health workers and  by not recognising us in terms of skills development.”

Nehawu Provincial Secretary, Patrick Makhafane, accuses the provincial health department of exploiting the community health workers.

“They are treated as slaves and we think that must come to an end. They are the heartbeat of the Department of Health in so many aspects, not just primary health. The recent example is COVID-19, they have excelled in delivering the services risking their lives saving the communities in the North West province. Now, why do you keep them in a slavery entrapment of the temporary employment? We think that any human being who is in their right frame of mind will not use people for more than 15 years in temporary employment without absorbing them permanently.”

Provincial government’s response 

MEC for Health Madoda Sambatha has admitted that they are in need of the services provided by these workers. But he says they do not currently have funds to absorb them all.

“ We are now doing calculations of where are we going to get the money from. But the principle of us absorbing them, we agree. We are working on the issue of funding the absorption, and the principle that we have is that even if we had to absorb them, we will have to absorb all of them.”

Sambatha says it will cost them more than R1.2 billion a year to permanently employ all the health workers.

Nationwide protest

Nehawu members earlier this week embarked on a nationwide protest calling for adequate Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers.

They also want a wage increase: 

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