16 Frere cleaners in hot water for ‘new set of key duties’

Sixteen Frere Hospital cleaners are facing disciplinary charges of gross misconduct.

At issue is an apparently new set of “key responsibilities” which includes: “collect the food trolley from the main kitchen during breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper time”.

A further instruction is to “adhere to food-handling practices”.

The cleaners have claimed that these instructions are new orders to “serve food” which is not part of their old work schedule.

The cleaners called the Dispatch and complained that there were health risks when general workers, who clean all parts of the hospital, have to handle food.

However, it was unclear if workers do handle food, as workers’ initial claims that they “served food to patients” was later watered down to “now and again”.

Frere CEO Rolene Wagner was unable to comment.

She told the Dispatch: “I can confirm that there is a disciplinary process under way regarding a few cleaners at Frere Hospital. An independent chairperson is presiding over the matter. For this reason, I am unable to comment on an internal matter that is still in process.”

In an official disciplinary notice that was seen by the Dispatch, it is stated that the 16 embarked on a two-day unprotected strike and compromised the system of feeding patients, which endangered them.

Wagner’s notice states the strike “disrupted the services of the department of health in that the patients were not fed timeously in order to get their medication”.

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said: “The issue of the cleaners is being dealt with internally. We can’t jeopardise the process by responding and putting elements of the process in the public domain.”

The cleaners, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said 14 cleaners had appeared before the hospital’s disciplinary committee and were waiting to hear the outcome of the DC, while two are due to appear soon.

Cleaners said the issue arose in the last month when they were given a new “job purpose” document which set out eight “main objectives and performance areas” which included the order to take food to patients.

Workers said they wrote a letter of protest to the CEO on August 21, requesting a meeting and a meeting was set for the 29th.

They claim that on the day, 33 of them waited for Wagner in the dining hall, but she did not appear.

They then refused to wash dishes that night and were issued a notice of a disciplinary hearing.

Their disciplinary notice, dated October 9, states: “It is alleged that on the night of August 29 you failed to wash patient dishes as expected of you. On August 30 you failed to provide pots to food services staff.”

Cleaners spoken to admitted they did not do the dishes on the night of August 29 out of anger towards Wagner not pitching, but they were back at their jobs the next day.

“On the 29th, we waited for the CEO in the dining hall, as agreed. That is when they said we went on an illegal strike,” said a cleaner, who claimed they were “coerced” into writing apology letters.

“We did so because we did not want to lose our jobs. Those who didn’t plead guilty, might be without a job at the end of this week.”

The cleaners also took a swipe at unions, saying: “The unions were not helpful in this matter because they also said we should plead guilty.” — zikhonam@dispatch.co.za

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