Striking paramedics fail to attend to scores of calls for help
Government paramedics went on an strike at the weekend in pursuit of a R14m claim for working overtime during the festive season.
The health department has declared it will not pay without proof, which they term “verification”.
The strike was confirmed by East Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo and Alderson Ambulance COO Jason Leicester.
While Leicester seemed to indicate services in the Amatola municipal district were still on strike, Kupelo said the strike came to an end after the weekend.
Fort Beaufort was still strike affected, however.
Kupelo called the strike illegal and said internal procedures to deal with the action were under way.
Multiple calls, a WhatsApp message and a promise from a union colleague to get health union Nehawu’s Eastern Cape secretary Miki Jaceni to comment were unsuccessful.
Jaceni took one call, saying: “Call me after 20 minutes”. From then on calls were not picked up.
It emerged in an interview with Leicester that the government had called on private ambulance services to fill the gap and respond to calls from the public for medical help.
Leicester said they were called on Friday when the strike broke out.
At the weekend Alderson Ambulance ran four ambulances during the day, and three at night, putting a total of nine ambulances on the roads to fetch state patients.
He did not know how many road crash scenes they attended, saying: “We would go there anyway”, but said they were called out up to 40 times in East London, King William’s Town, Adelaide, Alice and Butterworth to attend to an array of cases.
A number of patients were pregnant women who were “critical”, he said.
He declined to say how much the state would be billed for the private work, but said the state emergency workers on strike would not be paid and this meant there would be a cash, “so it may not impact on taxpayers.”
Kupelo said: “There was illegal strike action until the PSA (Public Service Association) wrote to workers advising them they were verging on and unprotected strike and they decided to return to work.
"However, we are still experiencing problems with Nehawu in Fort Beaufort.”
He said the department was “not aware of any impact” on the ambulance service, but for Fort Beaufort where there was a “non-response of ambulances”.
He had no statistics on the number of call-outs received during the strike, saying: “Nobody called to say a crash was not attended, but we are aware paramedics decided not to do their work and internal processes have ensued.”
He said paramedics who went on an unprotected strike could expect “consequences”.
“The issue is money.”
EMS staff had submitted a claim for R14m for December.
“It is being processed and is subject to verification.
"We won’t pay without verifying.”
He said the paramedics and their union had demanded overtime money earned in January and December, and would not accept that there were regulated processes to be followed in making payments.
“The department was processing their payment. The department must look at the budget and the claims, and must wait for the Treasury to issue a payment authorisation.
"We don’t just pay with cheques.
"Overtime claims are submitted to the supervisor, and then it goes to salaries, and human resources. We can’t just pay willy nilly.”
He said the payment was likely to be finalised on February 19.