Health workers threaten to go on strike
Unions and civil society organisations on Friday stated that if their demands were not responded to within five days, “we will be left with no other alternative than to take decisive industrial action, and we are confident that the vast majority of the public will be behind us because they know our health-care system has been privatised, fragmented, underfunded and left to rot for years.
On May Day, front-line workers in South Africa’s hospitals, clinics, municipalities and communities made a key, “life and death” demand: personal protective equipment (PPE) for all people who come into contact with patients suspected of having Covid-19.
“All over the world, it is now recognised as critical that health workers are given the protection they need to do their jobs.”If health workers here become infected, the health-care system – already under strain because of austerity – will be dramatically undermined, and when that happens, whole populations will be in danger.
“Hundreds of thousands of deaths have occurred because health-care systems have been unable to respond properly. Here in South Africa, there are chronic shortages of masks, gowns, gloves, decontamination facilities and the very basic equipment to measure temperature, blood pressure, diabetes and other preconditions that we now know can be fatal for the poor who contract the virus.”
The organisations include the SA Federation of Trade Unions, National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union, the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, the Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of SA, National Union of Care Workers of SA, the Treatment Action Campaign and the C19PC Workers’ Rights Working Group.
Across the world, the poor and vulnerable were dying in their thousands, the groups said“In South Africa, where there is a shocking health deficit for the poor, we could be looking at a catastrophe.”Those workers on the front line in hospitals and communities have been trying their best to cope with the upsurge of patients, and they know that worse, much worse, is to come.
“And what has been the reaction of their employers?“In one municipality, ambulance crews were told to either go to work with completely inadequate equipment and risk infection of themselves and their patients, or go home and forget being paid.
“Highly-trained professionals in hospitals across the country are being told to re-wear contaminated protective clothing, against all protocols. In community clinics and projects, community-care workers are put at risk on an hourly basis.”
Highly-trained nursing staff were forced to moonlight in the private sector to make ends meet, sometimes working double shifts for weeks on end, the groups said.”This is not a system that is sustainable, or effective. It is dangerous. Every single one of these workers should be given protection. Every community must have access to a reliable and appropriate source of PPE. It is an outrage that they are not.”
Yesterday, symbolic protests were held outside Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, and other clinics.“We welcome the arrival of health workers from Cuba and regard them as comrades, but it does beg the question: how can a poor, 50-year blockaded country like Cuba manage to send over 1000 highly-trained health-care specialists to different parts of the world, and we cannot even provide primary health care for our own people with an economy at least 50 times the size of Cuba’s?”
The demands include:
PPE that is fit for purpose for all those who may come into contact with the Covid-19 virus, and sufficient stockpiles to offer effective protection to all.
Safe transport, appropriate housing and welfare services, danger allowances and “upholding the promise of no loss of pay or dilution of terms and conditions caused by the crisis to be applied for front-line workers in institutions and in the community”.
The government should permanently employ all outsourced care workers and expand the service to meet community needs, as well as providing free masks, soap, gloves and sanitiser for all the unemployed and poor who are unable to afford them.
The government should provide rapid testing kits to all facilities o ensure that data is collected immediately.
Proper training for all community health workers and the escalation of effective decontamination and ongoing disinfection of all facilities as per protocol.
Action to be taken against all departments, officials and managers who contravene the Occupational Health and Safety Act by forcing workers to work without proper PPE.
The speedy mass-manufacture of PPE, to build stockpiles and provide jobs.
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