Eastern Cape community care workers are up in arms over the provincial government’s refusal to employ them permanently. They have a raft of outstanding grievances they want addressed in order to alleviate their working conditions.
The disgruntled workers have previously held several protests in their ongoing bid to have their grievances resolved. They accuse the Department of Health of not clearing its Personnel and Salaries Management System (Persal) to open the way for their permanent employment. Persal itself presents a problem as it prohibits them from accessing social grants and other benefits for the poor.
“Due to the abnormal Persal number, our children cannot receive National Student Financial Aid Scheme [NSFAS], we are unable to receive RDP houses and now not able to receive child support grants for our children,” reads a letter they wrote on 8 October 2021. “Many of us have information from Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] that these grants have been taken away from us because we are considered to be earning over R7,500, while we for all these years have been receiving R3,500 per month.”
They want the department to clear its Persal by removing names of persons who have died before and after the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic so as to open slots for their names.
EC spokesperson for the Department of Health, Mkhululi Ndamase said government employees have to be on Persal. Ndamase said, “Covid-19 CHWs are employees of the department of health, their nature of appointment is ‘contract’. However, like all staff they must be on Persal, without which they cannot be paid their monthly salaries. They would have to terminate their services for them not to be on Persal, a position the department would not want as they provide much needed services in response to Covid-19 and the vaccination drive.”
A history of hardship
The workers recount their heart-breaking experience since the programme of community healthcare was begun in the early 1990s. The letter was written by workers based in Gqeberha who call themselves United Community Healthcare Workers. They said they earned R700 per month in 1992.
The letter reads, “It was when we got transferred from working for the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to the Eastern Cape Department of Health that we started earning between R1,000 and R1,500 per month. This changed when the minimum wage was introduced and we earned R3,500 until today. We renew our contracts after every twelve months.
“Our employment has been halted as the National Treasury advised the Department of Health to apply for an exemption, putting a moratorium on filling in vacancies saying there is no money to employ us permanently.”
However, Ndamase said the workers should bring evidence that their grants have been terminated because they are alleged to be earning over R7,500 per month.
During the early days of lockdown, community care workers were not issued with adequate gloves and masks to perform their duties safely. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe
Healthcare workers on the frontline
Noxolo Mafumana (51) from Motherwell is the sole breadwinner in her family. She was employed as a care worker in July 2020 on a nine-month contract before signing a twelve-month contract earning R3,500 per month. She receives a R450 child-care grant with which she pays the R40 daily transport fare for her son doing Grade 8 in Malabar.
“Sassa informed all of the community healthcare workers that we were permanent, earning R7,500 per month. We were advised to reapply and bring a letter from the Department of Health stating our real salaries. They also want a letter from schools where our children are learning. How am I going to raise my family when my husband is not working?” Mafumana declared.
Janefin Armoed (58) joined the department as a community healthcare worker in April 2020, working at a field hospital earning R3,500. She was transferred to a clinic after the field hospital was closed in March this year. They only received an increment of R133. She said they were never told that the Persal number would deprive them of their Sassa benefits.
Armoed said, “I receive a child support grant for my 14-year-old son, a disability grant for my husband and I also get paid a disability grant for a hip problem. Sassa just stopped these grants without even notifying us. They said I was under investigation. My life is very difficult because of the disabilities in my family yet the grants are stopped. I consult a physio every month and the process is not an easy one.”
The community healthcare workers are demanding that the government use the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) to pay them. They say in the memorandum, “The GEPF has just less than R2-trillion in accumulated reserves. Every month workers are contributing 6% of their salaries to the pension fund. This is money that could fund our permanency.
“We demand the department to clean up the Persal by removing people on the retirement list or those who have since died long before and during the pandemic who are still reflected in establishments’ posts and budgets. This will make space to grant permanency for us as CHWs and even hire new staff.
“We demand that the EC government remove us from this abnormal Persal so that we are able to receive social benefits, and reinstate them when permanency is granted.
“We demand a Basic Income Grant of R1,500 for unemployed people and everyone earning below R3,500.”
Department spokesperson, Ndamase said replacement of Covid-19 contract workers was an ongoing process. “The department currently has no fiscal space to commit to permanent employment. Covid-19 contract workers earn a stipend. There is no provision in the salary adjustment determination made for the basic grant.”