By Renny Simone
MAIN PHOTO: A frame from a video that has been widely circulated on social media, apparently showing police action against nurses demanding PPE equipment. Source: Twitter @MichaelSun168
Some South African nurses are threatening to stay home from work unless the government meets their demands for, among other things, increased compensation and more protective equipment by 1 May.
The Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU), which represents nurses and other healthcare workers, made the strike threat on Wednesday in response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest address to the nation. Ramaphosa’s Tuesday-evening speech outlined a R500 billion relief package designed to alleviate the economic crisis posed by coronavirus. But YNITU believes that not enough is being done for healthcare workers.
“[YNITU] couldn’t stomach President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation that once again failed to address the plight of those who are battling the Covid-19 pandemic in the frontline”, the union said in a media statement.
In addition to longstanding concerns about a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in South Africa’s hospitals, the union believes that nurses should receive greater compensation for the work they are doing.
“The least the government could do is give nurses an income tax break or a Covid-19 danger allowance in these trying times”, the statement said.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), with which YNITU is aligned, supported the demands in a media release that was generally critical of Ramaphosa’s address.
But the South African Department of Health has warned that a nurses’ strike would be a criminal offense, reported News24.
“The Ministry of Health implores every health worker to contribute in the fight against this pandemic,” Popo Maja, spokesman for the Department of Health, told the outlet.
Another union representing nurses, the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa (Denosa), has also criticised the government’s position on nurses. A member of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), from which SAFTU split in 2017, Denosa has not called for a strike. But comments from Secretary-General Cassim Lekhoathi express similar disappointments to those raised in the YNITU statement.
“The frustration comes because in April there was supposed to be a salary increase, but [the] government has basically said they don’t have the money to do it,” Lekhoathi told The South African website.
“It was a slap in the face of nurses,” Lekhoathi continued.
The strike threat has generated significant debate on social media. #CovidNurseStayAway has been tweeted over 10,000 times since YNITU tweeted the initial statement, and the hashtag spent hours as the top-trending in South Africa on Wednesday, according to trends24.
Some South Africans had harsh words for the nurses threatening to strike.
“This Hashtag is just pure arrogance,” one user tweeted. “[I’m] afraid for patients that are being treated by nurses with this mentality”.
“This hashtag tells me a lot about how many people didn’t know what becoming a nurse was all about,” said another.
Others are expressing solidarity.
“I stand with our nurses, They are the Most over worked and disrespected civil servants,” one user wrote.
President Ramaphosa is due to address the nation again on Thursday evening. The speech is set to focus on the government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions, according to TimesLive.