Health workers irate over pay cuts

Lynn Williams
FED-UP health workers protested in Port Elizabeth yesterday after a shock move by the department to demote them and cut their salaries.
The department has also insisted the employees pay back the extra money they earned following their promotions last year, in which the salaries of more than 1000 clerks across the province more than doubled from R6944 to R15865 a month.
Employees received letters last week from the department telling them they had been demoted from Category 8 to a Category 5. A Category 8 employee earns R190389 a year, while a Category 5 employee earns R83331 a year.
The demotions came into effect from February 1 and the total amount employees have been told to pay back adds up to more than R600000.
The official letter from the department did not indicate exactly how much and over what period of time the money needed to be paid back.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the clerks affected are those working at the Livingstone, Dora Nginza and Provincial hospitals, as well as district clinics in Uitenhage and Despatch.
No official comment could be obtained, but a senior source in the Bhisho administration, who asked not to be named, said the matter dated back to the dissolution of the former homeland states of Transkei and Ciskei, and the establishment of the Eastern and Western Cape provinces.
The structural adjustments were supposed to have included increments for some officials across the various departments – but many who were supposed to get them did not.
Their right to these increments was subsequently recognised and the matter was settled in all departments except the health department.
Finally, in 2006, a decision was taken by Bhisho that certain health department employees prejudiced in this way would now have the outstanding money paid into their accounts. Unfortunately, when these payments were made, in 2009, they included some substantial over-payments – and the department is now “millions of rands” out of pocket.
However, Isaac Jacobus, labour relations organiser of the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) said yesterday workers were “traumatised” by the situation.
He said health service unions including Hospersa, the National Health and Allied Workers‘ Union (Nehawu) and the Public Servants‘ Association (PSA) had lodged a dispute and advised all members not to sign the document.
In the letter, a copy of which The Herald has seen, the department notifies workers of its “intention to recover debt in respect of irregular promotions”.
The letter also says “psycho- social support” will be available to affected employees through the employee wellness programme in their districts.
Jacobus said the department did not have any authority to simply reverse its decision.
“The provincial department is in a shambles and now it wants to drag its workers down with it.”
Yvonne Ahrens, who has been working at the Livingstone Hospital for 29 years, said having her salary reduced would have a huge negative effect on her household.
“When our salaries were increased, we became accustomed to a higher standard of living. We have bills to pay and mouths to feed. After so many years of loyal service, it is horrible to be treated so unfairly,” she said.
Josephine Erasmus, who works at Provincial Hospital, said the promotion last year had come as a “pleasant surprise” and the risk of having it all taken away was worrying. Nehawu regional secretary Nomvuyo Norman said a mass march would be held tomorrow and a memorandum would be handed over to a health department official.
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