Strike leaves patients in the lurch

The provincial health department had to enlist the services of private ambulances in some parts of Buffalo City and Amathole District after Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel downed tools yesterday.

Hundreds of EMS and patient transport officials in the province demanded they be paid overtime dating back more than a decade.

By yesterday afternoon no ambulances were operating in King William’s Town, Mdantsane, Butterworth, Stutterheim, Ngqushwa, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide, Keiskammahoek and Cathcart.

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the strike was illegal and denied employees were owed money dating back to 2003.

“Service is severely affected and we are engaging private ambulances to respond to calls.

“However, there are some areas in Amathole where there are no private ambulances.

“This compromises the patient as we may not give a response or we may be sending a private ambulance from East London.

“The department does not understand why workers are on strike. The strike itself is regarded as illegal and unprotected.

“The department will do everything in its power to protect its employees who want to go to work and the right of the members of the public to a health service.”

One of the striking ambulance crew members, who asked to remain anonymous, said they wanted to be paid for the excess hours they had worked.

“We were promised that we would be paid dating back to 2003 but the department is not doing that. We will continue until our demands are met,” she said.

The department had agreed to pay outstanding hours from 2014 and in 2015 payments were made, but it turned out that some were not paid correctly and after a review the department agreed.

Kupelo said: “There is no payment due dating back to 2003 in terms of the agreement signed with the union. All payments started in 2014 going forward.”

Kupelo said that payments had been made for financial years 2015-16 and 2016-17.

“A second iteration was done where affected employees queried payments which were not according to roster hours.

“The department is in the process of paying, but the process is slow due to the individualised payments that must be verified before each payment,” he said.

On Sunday, an ambulance crew member was assaulted in Mdantsane. Kupelo condemned the action and urged community members refrain from “barbaric” acts. —

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