SAFTU celebrates the International Day of the Nurse – condemns government for undermining nurses and healthcare workers

Workers at Dora Nginza Hospital in Zwide took strike action last month and demanded that they be given PPE and danger allowance. (Photo: GroundUp, Thamsanqa Mbovane)

THE SOUTH African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), on this day when the world celebrates the International Day of the Nurse and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, join millions of world citizens in saluting nurses in our country, South Africa, and the world over.

There could not be a more appropriate theme to mark this historic day than the one chosen by the World Health Organisation – ‘Nursing the World to Health’.
This year we celebrate the International Day of the Nurse and Midwife under the most trying conditions humankind has had to face. Most of the countries are on lockdown as part of a fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected over 4.2 million – with some 286,000 having died and some 1.4 million recoveries.
In our country, the numbers have climbed to 11,350, with 206 deaths and 4,357 recoveries. These figures are rapidly worsening.
On the cold face of this epidemic are the brave daughters and sons of the soil, nurses and other front-liners who have decided as part of the vow they took to protect humankind to throw their entire being on the line to prevent the spread of the virus, nurse the sick, counsel the traumatised and console those that have lost their loved ones.
These brave and gallant fighters have done this with little regard to their own health and safety, and the safety of their families.
The bravery of the nurses in the face of death is nothing but a revolutionary act of love for humankind. Che Guevara said: ‘At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.’
The nurses have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that they live the best values of our people – ubuntu, selflessness, sacrifices, tenacity in the face of endless provocations and betrayals from their employer. It is a shame that the government is also marking this historic day while on the other hand demoralising the nurses and other healthcare workers.
SAFTU condemns the government which is hell-bent on undermining the nurses and the entirety of healthcare workers:
1. In the face of the pandemic, the government could not keep the promise made to the front-liners that they will be provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment. As a result, many front-liners are now infected and dying.
2. So the working conditions of healthcare workers cannot be any worse. The front-liners have had to contend with chronic understaffed, under-resourced and scandalously overcrowded public hospitals, with dilapidated and inadequate infrastructure, declining numbers of health professionals and unimaginable workload that has caused them stress and related diseases.
3. Government as part of its total commitment to ‘austerity and austerity’ cut R161 billion from the wages of all workers. The government did this by unilaterally withdrawing from a signed agreement with its own workers – In the process, it has provided a terrible precedent to the employers in the private sector to do the same.
4. Government has maintained a ‘dire and dire’ healthcare system. ‘Government spending on health care comprises less than half of total health expenditure even though the public system serves more than 80% of the population (i.e. around 40 million South Africans) without private health insurance.
Around 70% of all doctors and most specialists only work in the private sector, the remaining 30% serve the public sector.
5. Sixteen per cent of the population use private doctors and hospitals which are covered by their health insurance, often with a monthly contribution from their employers. Their premiums and direct payments to health providers (about a third of which are not reimbursed) cost in total about R11 000 each year.
6. The public sector covers 68% of people who do not use any private care at all, spending about R1900 per person. Another 16% of the population rely on the public sector for hospital care but use the private sector for primary care, paying out of their own pockets, with total spending about R2500 per person.
7. Nurses make up the largest group of healthcare providers in South Africa. The performance of any healthcare system is directly dependent on the quality of care afforded by these healthcare professionals.
Yet in 2015 a report by the University of Witwatersrand revealed that over 60% of nurses admitted reporting that they felt too tired to work while on duty. According to the study, this could be linked to the 70% of South African nurses who admitted to ‘moonlighting’ or working overtime due to a massive skills shortage in this under-resourced sector.
As we celebrate the International Nurses Day let us re-dedicate ourselves to a struggle to ensure that these inequalities are eliminated. Let us continue the struggle for a single, free and high-quality public healthcare system.
In this regard, we reiterate our call that the government must nationalise the private clinics and hospitals. We vow to leave no stone unturned and to spare no energy in the struggle for decent working conditions of these warriors, and call on the working class to honour all the healthcare workers by ensuring that the government pays them a living wage and improves their working conditions and living standards so that they may continue to serve the population.

  • Trade unions in the health sector say working conditions of nurses must improve in order to help in the fight against Covid-19.

Today is International Nurses Day, and it comes at a time when healthcare workers are in the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Unions have raised concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers and for improvement in working conditions.
But National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) spokesperson Khaya Xaba says nurses are still being constantly abused verbally and physically by people they serve.
Xaba said nurses still faced poor occupational health and safety standards informed by poor infrastructural conditions, lack of resources and high risk of exposure to infections and lack of psychological support.
He says there are still discriminatory policies on salaries and benefits, and nurses still lived in substandard residences.
‘Dad’s death led me to (my) nursing career,’ says young nurse Tsakani Ndlovu – who was inspired to become a nurse after her father passed away from a chronic kidney disease.
Xaba said that the government could help improve conditions by providing adequate PPE and training on infection control in relation to all communicable diseases. He also called on the government to pay a risk allowance to nurses.
‘There should be a re-establishment of breast-feeding and childcare facilities to reduce the psychological stress that comes with being separated from their children,’ he says. ‘There should also be employer assistant programmes to provide nurses with psychological support.
‘We also want designated staff sick bays and occupational health services where nurses work,’ he said. Nursing conditions are appalling.
‘Nurses have not been provided transport and accommodation during the national lockdown. as public transport is restricted. Trade unions in the health sector say working conditions of nurses must improve in order to help in the fight against Covid-19.
‘Nurses, as frontline workers, put their lives on the line to provide care to Covid-19 patients and/or suspected cases. They are anxious and worried about their own lives too.
‘They are involved in massive community screening to identify suspects in the communities and they require full co-operation and protection.’
Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa general secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said the contribution of nurses to the well-being of society was more important than ever before now that the globe was facing the pandemic.
‘The World Health Organization and the International Council of Nurses launched the World Nursing 2020 report, which highlights the very critical need for all governments to invest in nursing,’ says Lekhoathi.
‘The report reveals that today there are over 28-million nurses worldwide – but this still leaves a global shortage, with the greatest gap found in Africa. To avert this shortage, countries need to increase the total number of nurse graduates.’