Community health workers strike for better working conditions

Community health workers strike for better working conditions

Lack of payment recently prompted Gauteng community health workers to protest, marking at least the second such action in three years.

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HBC IRINRecently, community health workers picketed outside the Gauteng Department of Health demanding that department employ them directly. Currently, the department pays non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which in turn contract and pay community health workers. Community health workers allege that these NGOs continue to impose ‘dry seasons’ without pay while others fail to pay workers.

Zandile Sibiya is a peer educator with a local NGO. She told OurHealth that her NGO imposes a three-month ‘dry season’ during which newly recruited community health workers much work without pay.

“It is not an easy thing to wake up every day and go save a community on an empty stomach,” she said. “We save lives by making sure that patients do not default on their treatment, but no one is taking care of us.”

Community health workers also continue to allege some NGOs frequently do not pay them on time, according to counsellor Thandi Shezi

“Our NGOs are not treating us equally,” she told OurHealth. “Some of us are told that there is no money to pay us while others get their money for the same work.”

While community health workers picketed in September, some patients were left without home-based care and adherence counselling.

“While we are here, some of our patients’ lives are at risk,” Shezi said. “We love to save people’s lives, but it is not fair to be expected to volunteer forever.”

This is at least the second such protest in three years. In 2010, HIV lay counsellors from Johannesburg’s West and East Rands went on strike following similar allegations regarding lack of payment and ‘dry seasons.’