Ambulance strike continues

The Eastern Cape department of health was met with anger on Tuesday afternoon when it offered to pay striking ambulance crews their overtime at the end of January.
“The workers don’t understand when the department is saying there is no money.
“We have been hearing this promise to pay since 2007,” a shop steward representing ambulance crews from Nelson Mandela Bay said.
She did not want to be named for fear of reprisals because the strike is illegal.
“The task team who were appointed to negotiate are now thinking that we should demand that the superintendent-general, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, be deployed elsewhere,” she said.
“Our colleagues don’t want to hear anything. They are so angry we were fearing they will turn to assaulting officials.
“As much as we want to help the community, we have families to look after and bills to pay,” she said.
“We are not suspending the strike. We are tired of the lies.”
The task team representing the workers will meet Mbengashe at 10am on Wednesday.
“We want to talk to Mbengashe himself to give him the feedback of the workers.
“In our negotiations we are pleading with the department not to apply the no-work, nopay rule and also not to suspend anybody.”
In the department of health’s annual report in the Eastern Cape Legislature last month, Mbengashe admitted that R72m was moved from the Emergency Medical Service programme to pay for medicolegal claims in the province.
“Last night the department of health made the ridiculous offer to pay our money in January or February next year,” one of the ambulance workers in Port Elizabeth said.
“We were on call last night. The call centre staff didn’t answer a single call,” he said.
“The other response we received from management [on Tuesday] was to charge those who are refusing to work.
“We said we would only go out if we had police or security escorts to accompany us. That obviously didn’t happen.”
The Herald could only confirm eight calls attended to by private ambulances in the Bay.
No-one answered the phone at the emergency call centre when a reporter called.
Department spokesperson Lwandile Sicwetsha said all calls to ambulances were being diverted to the health department’s call centre.
“The call centre will link the caller to private ambulances but we are only responding to high-priority cases,” he said.
According to official health department statistics, most of the ambulance crews in Port Elizabeth are ambulance assistants, drivers and “intermediate life support” medics.
Their basic salaries vary between R70,000 and R150,000 a year, excluding overtime.
Nehawu spokesperson Miki Jaceni confirmed that shop stewards had been briefed on the department’s offer to end the strike.
“The workers said ‘no’. They want something [money owed] now.”

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