Nurses' union threatens stayaway on Workers' Day over PPE, danger pay

22 April 2020 - 18:52 By Lwandile Bhengu
The Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) has threatened to go on strike from May 1 if their demands are not met by the department of health.
The Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) has threatened to go on strike from May 1 if their demands are not met by the department of health.
Image: 123rf/lightfieldstudios

A nursing union that claims to represent 10,000 nurses is threatening a stayaway from Workers' Day on May 1 if their demands around compensation and working conditions are not met.

The president of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) Lerato Madumo-Gova said that they were giving the government two weeks to respond.

“We are calling for a stayaway that will commence on May 1 should the president not adhere to the demands of health care professionals, particularly front-line staff who are nurses.”

At the core of their complaints are compensation for health care workers and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals.

In a statement on Wednesday, the union said that it had hoped that President Cyril Ramaphosa would announce a six-month income tax break for front-line workers and nurses in particular, who it said are the “least paid among health care professionals”.

“We have exposed our front-line workers to this virus, but we couldn't even give them basic protection equipment. They had to try and protect themselves and stick to their pledge of service,” said Madumo-Gova.

“The strategies that were put in place never took the needs of front-line workers into consideration — for example, the transportation that was supposed to be there for front-line staff, so that this virus does not go with them into taxis into their homes and communities and back to work.”

Madumo-Gova said they felt ignored after the president announced various  socio-economic relief measures but did not mention health care workers directly.

“There are recommendations that say that if you are a health care provider and you work in a dangerous environment, you must be compensated with danger allowance. What we expected from the president was to say, 'health care workers, we see you, we see what you are doing and we will compensate you — no matter how little,” she said.

“It's not even about money; it's about being able to say, 'We are aware that a taxi that usually cost you R10 [will cost more] during this time because you had to club together and pay R200 to get to work.”

On Wednesday, Twitter users were divided in their response to #CovidNursesStayAway, which trended at number one. While some supported the call, others felt differently.

“But nurses are getting something at least — if I was government with that limited funds, I was gonna help the poor people who don't know where their next meal will come from, kanti why are we so selfish as people? At least you are earning #CovidNursesStayAway,” wrote one user.

Madumo-Gova made it clear that they had no issue with the provisions announced by the government to help aid those in need.

“It must be clear: we have no problem with the social development outreach that was announced yesterday. As nurses, we treat the poorest of the poor. For them to remain in good health they do need ... those particular grants,” she said.

The department of health did not immediately respond to queries.