Scores of Eastern Cape ambulance drivers and their assistants laid down tools on Friday, staging sit-ins at their places of work.The affected regions are the Nelson Mandela Bay, Amathole and Buffalo City municipalities. Ambulances remained parked the whole day outside the emergency medical services' provincial headquarters at Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth.At issue is that the drivers have not received backpay owed to them. They said they would only start working after the money had been paid, adding they would keep turning up at work but not perform their duties.Sinking into debtA worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the health department had promised them excess allowances, a form of overtime pay, by January 6 but had failed to meet the commitment. Their backpay had accumulated since September last year, he added.Another employee said some workers were sinking into debt. "We had a black Christmas because we expected the department to meet its end of the deal. Schools are opening next week. Our children will struggle to have uniforms."Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Siyanda Manana said it had been assured by the provincial treasurer that payment would be made on January 13.Manana added, in the meanwhile, the department had enlisted the services of private ambulances to deal with critical cases only. "We also encourage our patients to phone our call centre number for assistance which is 0800 032 364."