Emergency services to be affected

2013-08-20 00:00

EMERGENCY services could come to a standstill in KwaZulu-Natal as scores of paramedics are geared to stay away from work to attend arbitration.

This comes after negotiations on the payment of danger allowances and overtime hit a stalemate between the Department of Health and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) representing the paramedics.

For eight months, paramedics have tried to force health authorities in the province to address their concerns, but in vain.

Yesterday, Nupsaw provincial spokesperson Nkosinathi Ndamase said they first engaged provincial Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, Premier Zweli Mkhize and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) over the concerns of the workers.

“Over 2 000 paramedics will not report to work on Tuesday [today]. In the negotiations with EMRS labour manager Sipho Kunene, we agreed to relieve some staff. But the status on the EMRS operation will drop down,” he said.

Ndamase said they are fighting with the department over proper working conditions. He said DPSA has not yet responded to their concerns, but that they were asked not to march in June.

Ndamase said some paramedics will be left behind to ensure there is operation at low scale, adding paramedics attending arbitration have been given leave. “We have not discarded our plan for the protest,” he said.

“Over the years, we have been working under bad conditions ,” said a paramedic who asked not to be named.

In January, more than 100 KwaZulu-Natal paramedics mysteriously booked off sick, crippling the provincial ambulance service. There was mass absenteeism, which was later attributed to gripes over danger and overtime pay early this year.

Stanger Hospital was the hardest hit with 124 state paramedics not reporting for duty for at least seven days after they booked off sick in a strategy to make their voices heard.

Ndamse said paramedics are working extra hours instead of the time stipulated by their contracts, adding that about 13 hours disappear every month from employees’ salaries.

Paramedics are, however, declared an essential service and are not allowed to go on strike. The fight between paramedics and government started in December when they were forced to work 173 hours instead of 160. Workers said the DPSA instructed the Health Department to pay them a danger allowance in 2007 but nothing was done.

Paramedics on entry level “basic life support” are paid R117 000 per annum while senior “intermediate life support” paramedics were paid between R112 000 and R115 000. “This has discouraged juniors to further their studies because they would be paid less,” said a paramedic. Aggrieved staff members pointed out they have no intention of risking the lives of their patients, but that they were left with no option as Dhlomo had failed to address their concerns.

Health Department spokesperson Desmond Motha said all they know was that two people representing the workers would be in the bargaining council meeting in Stanger. “If paramedics leave their post to attend the arbitration, that would be regarded as serious and action would be taken,” he said.

Motha said managers would know the number of staff who have taken leave and that it should have been done within the ambit of the law.

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