About 30 community healthcare workers marched to the Eastern Cape Department of Health on Thursday demanding full-time employment and a monthly salary of R12 500, GroundUp reports.
The protesters are members of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU).
"These downtrodden community care workers are living from hand to mouth in abject poverty," said Akhona Zuka, regional chairperson of YNITU. "They do not even qualify for a housing subsidy. When they exit the healthcare system through retirement or death they leave empty-handed. They don't enjoy any benefits as their co-workers in the Department of Health do."
Zuka said community healthcare workers were underpaid and overworked.
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"They currently earn a meagre stipend of R3 000 per month. We therefore demand R12 500 per month for them. They should also be absorbed into the [health] department with no strings attached."
Community healthcare workers are primarily responsible for home visits to make sure that vulnerable people are getting adequate care and do not fall through the cracks in the state's health system. The workers are currently paid stipends by the Department of Health (sometimes via NGOs).
Zoliswa Hina, 44, joined the community care work programme in 2006. She rents a room for R700 a month in Missionvale where she lives with her five children. She gets a stipend of R3 000 a month.
"We are working very hard under stressful conditions. We do all the dirty jobs in clinics, yet we are not being recognised," said Hina. "We demand immediate absorption into full-time jobs because we have been extending our contracts for many years."
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Lwando Mange has worked at Jose Pearson TB Hospital in Bethelsdorp as a community care worker for the past 12 years. He commutes every day from Greenbushes where he lives with seven children.
"It is very stressful to know that we have to renew the contracts every year," said Mange. "We are not emotionally settled. We are only given breathing masks to wear in the wards. They don't give us uniforms or protective shoes. We are working in a hospital with [resistant strains of] tuberculosis."
The protestors submitted a memorandum listing 15 demands and asked for Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle to intervene and resolve their grievances within seven days.
Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha said: "The department will look into the demands on the petition and then respond to the employees."