Emergency workers demand safe working conditions

FEDUSA marchers on their way to parliament during their peaceful march to demand on Tuesday. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

It has been reported that more than 60 paramedics have fallen victim to armed robbery attacks since the beginning of the year in the Western Cape. The violent robberies are allegedly carried out by drug-abusing thugs and many of their victims are still receiving counseling for the trauma they suffered during such incidents.

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

The Public Servants Association (PSA) have threatened a complete shut down of the state’s public services if the government fails to respond positively to its demands.

Tahir Maepa, the PSA’s Deputy General Manager made the statement during a protest action outside Parliament by the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA). Its affiliate, PSA, handed over a memorandum to demand the protection of public and private health sector emergency medical services as well as of Metrorail staff who have frequently found themselves the victims of armed robberies by thugs while in the line of duty.

HOSPERSA, United National Transport Union (UNTU) and Congress of South African Students (COSAS) also participated in the action.

Both the paramedics and Metrorail staff vowed that they will withdraw their services if the authorities do not take them seriously.

The protest followed numerous complaints and concerns raised by EMS staff (Emergency Medical Service) about the escalating levels of violence on paramedics as well as the demand for the deployment of army to accompany paramedics into hot spot areas.

An eight-year-old died last month after armed thugs ambushed an ambulance transporting him to Red Cross Hospital by putting sharp objects on the N2 near Nyanga. They robbed the frightened male and female paramedics of their cash and belongings after the vehicle came to a standstill.

A toddler from Delft who was critically injured from a car accident earlier in the evening consequently died as his condition deteriorated while the ambulance was disabled.

It has been reported that more than 60 paramedics have fallen victim to armed robbery attacks since the beginning of the year in the Western Cape. The violent robberies are allegedly carried out by drug-abusing thugs and many of their victims are still receiving counseling for the trauma they suffered during such incidents.

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Delays in times of emergency when ambulances have to wait for a police escort before responding to a call, are deadly.

Tahir Maepa, the PSA’s Deputy General Manager addresses the marchers outside Parliament. Next to him is Dennis George FEDUSA General Secretary. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

The memorandum of demands which was directed to the Ministers of Defence, Labour, Health and Police included a request for the urgent and fast-tracked active participation of military health personnel to accompany paramedics into crime hotspots this festive season.

It also stressed that the presence of the military, SAPS and the reinstatement of the railway police and the redeployment of military police at Metrorail to protect staff and commuters will definitely send out a clear signal of the government’s commitment to the provision of efficient and effective transport systems, as well as the protection of the most vulnerable and the ill by not depriving them of their right to health care.

The workers also called for a collective effort by the Ministers of Defence, Health, Transport and Police, alongside an Occupation Health and Safety (OHS) Indaba next year with FEDUSA, Western Cape departments and other stakeholders to deal with the issue.

They urged the Labour Department to convene a broader OHS Indaba for the public and private sectors to conclude a plan and an OHS programme for particularly those workers who have been the target of brazen attacks.

Nkosinathi Bhence, UNTU’s organizer also echoed Maepa’s sentiment and appealed to residents to help the police to identify the culprits of the ongoing violent attacks.

Micheal Mayalo, a COSAS  leader in the Western Cape promised to raise funds in order to buy sjamboks and then mobilize learners to sjambok unruly thugs who targeted health workers.

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Mayalo said that emergency medical service can no longer be assured because of escalating criminal attacks and gang violence. COSAS is therefore demanding the employment of permanent EMS staff in each and every school in the province.

Yosuf Waja (29), a paramedic for five years from Athlone, said that this was his second time participating in a protest action calling for security and criticised the government for being reckless by failing to heed the pleas of paramedics. “We should not be also respected but cared for because we care for other people’s lives,” said Yosuf.

David Esau, the Labour Department’s Western Cape Chief Inspector who received the grievances promised to pass them to the relevant departments.

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