Unions call on Western Cape to hire community health workers

Hundreds of community health workers and union members are marching to Prime Minister Alan Winde’s office in Cape Town to demand that they be recruited by the Western Cape Department of Health. Photo: Vincent Lali

On Friday, around 300 community health workers marched to Prime Minister Alan Winde’s office in Cape Town to demand that they be recruited by the Western Cape Department of Health.

During the march, led by members of the National Union of Public and Allied Workers (NUPSAW), people chanted “Senza nje nxa sifuna imali” (We do this when we want money) and “[MEC] NomaFrench [Mbombo] worries us”.

Sbonile Jeza, national organizer at NUPSAW, said community health workers wanted to be “absorbed into the civil service” and placed on salary level 5.

Jeza said community health workers still work for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Western Cape, while in Gauteng many are employed at salary level 2, which equates to cleaners with no specialist skills. “We want them to be moved to salary level 5 as well. Community health workers should be treated as professionals because of their experience.

Khanyisa Bunyonyo, president of NUPSAW’s Cape Metro, said the workers also wanted hazard pay. “Most of the NGOs we work for aren’t even registered, so we have to go to hospital unassisted when you get injured on duty,” he said.

Bunyonyo said they also often worked in dangerous conditions and were more susceptible to infectious diseases like Covid and tuberculosis. For that reason, they also want danger pay, he said.

According to South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, the Gauteng government has already recruited more than 9,000 community health workers following their protests and marches.

“The government said in February that all community health workers would be outsourced. We will not allow the Western Cape government to be the only province not to recognize community health workers,” he said.

Vavi said the government’s proposed 3% salary increase for civil servants “is peanuts”.

Harry Malila, as chief executive of the Western Cape government, accepted the group’s memo on Winde’s behalf. He said, “Thank you for putting your problems in writing. We will definitely respond.

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