Nehawu to strike over community health workers

Trade union plans strike to force the government to employ community health workers.

Health e-news reports that National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the country’s third-largest public-sector union, said it would embark on an indefinite strike on 11 November. The purpose of the action is to force the government to employ an estimated 20,000 community health workers as part of an agreement reached in the public health and social development sectoral bargaining council in 2019.

The union wants full-time employment for the community health workers, but the government has cut budget allocations to raise the R10.5 billion South African Airways needs to implement its business rescue plan. The health department, which the community health workers fall under, lost R694 million in the exercise.

While the government finds ways to reduce its wage bill, Nehawu says it will put more pressure on it to give full-time jobs to 20,000 community health workers.

On 3 November, Nehawu’s Khaya Xaba said the health department had told them there was simply no money to employ the workers permanently. Xaba said community health workers work at the grassroots level, taking healthcare into people’s homes, yet they are very poorly paid and work under harsh conditions with no job security.

He added that the Covid-19 pandemic proved their importance beyond a doubt: “These were the people on the frontlines, conducting mass screenings and community testing initiatives, especially in rural areas and townships.”