Paramedics up in arms

2012-12-13 00:00

KWAZULU-Natal’s unhappy paramedics took their grievances to their Emergency Medical Services (EMS) general manager, Nkateko Sithole, in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.

A handful of paramedics from various districts in the province, clad in their uniforms, danced in the street bearing placards reading “We deserve better salaries” and “One ambulance at Sundumbili”.

Sithole received their memorandum at Natalia building,

Sifiso Dlamini, who spoke on behalf of the paramedics, branded Sithole a “liar”, “ruthless”, “brutal”, a “beast” and “heartless”.

Top of the paramedics’ agenda was the issue of overtime.

Dlamini said that according to their contracts, paramedics should be working 160 hours a month and any hours above that was overtime. But they were not being paid extra.

“EMS changed the departmental policy on overtime in order to accommodate the incorrect working hours of 173 by introducing a system that is called ‘compulsory overtime system’,” he said.

“We work 13 hours extra every month, which we don’t get paid for.”

Some of the paradmedics told The Witness they worked under harsh conditions.

Dlamini said it was the first time in the province that the paramedics had taken to the streets.

“These paramedics that get robbed of their money have children like you. We ask you to fix our issue, that’s all,” Dlamini said, pointing to Sithole.

Kevin Mzobe, of Ugu District, said the shift allowance was not paid properly and usually overtime was not paid on time.

Other issues the paramedics complained of were:

• Adjustments of salary levels — the intermediate life support salary level was revised from salary level 5 to 6;

• The translation of basic ambulance assistance from salary level 5 to emergency care officer grade;

• The need for EMS to do away with attorneys in the internal disciplinary hearing process;

• Twelve months’ probation, which the EMS was extending for spurious reasons;

• Non-payment of danger allowances to emergency service personnel.

The paramedics have threatened to park their ambulances if management fails to resolve the issues within seven working days.

Sithole told the paramedics: “One thing that we shouldn’t do is to disrespect each other.”

He also rebuked them for calling him “Nkathazo” — which means “trouble” in Zulu — instead of Nkateko, his real name.

He said Dlamini had written him many letters charging him with things he knew nothing about.

Sithole said his only sin was that he was responsible for the unit and signed documents. “But I don’t just sign, I ask questions,” he added.

When The Witness asked if the department would take action against the EMS staff and how the department would deal with the grievances, Sithole refused to comment, saying he feared being misquoted.

Sithole said the protest was a personal attack.

Dlamini was dismissed yesterday. He said his dismissal letter did not state any reasons.

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