Hospitals face Covid strike

Northdale Hospital.
Northdale Hospital.

Healthcare workers’ union representatives at Northdale Hospital say that government has created a “slaughterhouse” there, as National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) threatens to bring the health sector to a halt over unresolved concerns about the lack of protective equipment in public hospitals.

A union representative at Northdale said, “The situation at Northdale Hospital continues to deteriorate. This week, patients ran out of food because of the additional wards that are being created to accommodate Covid-19 patients without increasing staff capacity and food. Management continues to ignore the union’s calls to meet and end the creation of slaughterhouse conditions caused by the extra wards.

“It is pure arrogance or ignorance for senior government employees to allow maternity patients to bath in dishes because they have been accommodated in areas where there are no showers.”

In addition, he said, there has been an increase in the number of psychiatric patients at the hospital, which is only allowed to have 30 of these patients.

The healthcare workers there staged a lunch-time picket for the second week in protest against their working conditions, lack of PPE and adding extra wards without proper preparation.

They also warned of a complete withdrawal of labour on September 10 — during the projected peak of the Covid-19 virus in the country — if there is no favourable response to their demands. The union on Tuesday announced their shutdown plans following their fact-finding mission on the state of readiness by government to deal with the pandemic.

Nehawu represents healthcare workers who include cleaners, hospital chefs, doctors, nurses, and other support staff.

Grey’s Hospital healthcare workers have alleged that three more wards have opened at the hospital to cater for Covid-19 patients but staff have not been adequately prepared.

“More than 10 nurses and staff members have been infected in the past few weeks and I am suspecting [there are] more. We do not have appropriate PPE and the hospital only offers us plastic aprons.

“We are not even allowed to get PPE from the surgery ward,” said a healthcare worker from Grey’s hospital.

The union is aggrieved that in most hospital’s workers are not given the correct PPE, are victimised for questioning managers, are not allowed to self-isolate if they suspect they may be positive and that the Department of Health does not provide accurate statistics with regards to the number of affected healthcare workers.

Nehawu’s general secretary Zola Saphetha said nationally they had uncovered a general shortage in PPE at the facilities they had visited.

He said the stay-away in August and September will be in the form of a complete withdrawal of their labour.

He said recent statistics provided by the Department of Health showed that about 13 000 workers in the health sector had been infected with Covid-19 and more than 100 had died.

No response was received from the Department of Health in relation to these issues.


NEHAWU said from the visits to hospitals around the country, the team had discovered:

Managers refused to carry out fumigation after a member tests positive.

Members victimised for raising questions about the lack of PPE, the absence of daily screening of healthcare workers, and the refusal by managers to allow workers to self-isolate if they reasonably suspected they have been exposed.

Shop stewards forced to sign confidentiality forms, which means that they are not supposed to report or raise concerns about how the institution is managing the Covid-19 issues.

Managers regularly issued written warnings to workers who refuse to work under the conditions that they deem unsafe (due to lack of PPE).

NEHAWU’S general secretary Zola Saphetha said they wanted:

compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act;

infected workers to only return to work after completing 10-day mandatory self-isolation;

strict adherence to personal hygiene, wearing of masks and social distancing;

prohibition on managers preventing workers from quarantining if they believe they have been exposed, whet-her at home or at the workplace;

prohibition of managers forcing Covid-19 positive staff to work;

daily screening of workers and a roll-out of a national testing programme of non-communicable diseases, as many of the frontline workers live with underlying diseases without being aware of it;

government to abandon the current decentralised and fragmented approach in the procurement of PPE;

a review of the process of reporting on Covid-19 fatalities;

all vacant posts in the public healthcare sector to be filled; and

risk allowance for frontline workers.

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