On Wednesday, hundreds of nurses from hospitals and clinics in rural areas of the Eastern Cape picketed outside the provincial Department of Health’s call center in east London. They want to receive a special rural allowance. Photo: Johnnie Isaac

  • On Wednesday, hundreds of nurses picketed outside the provincial Department of Health’s call center in east London.

  • They are among some 5,000 registered nurses and orderlies at rural hospitals and clinics who claim the department owes them a special rural allowance.

  • The department head and the senior civil servant plan to meet with union representatives next week to find a solution to the dispute.

“For three years, we have been at the forefront of the fight against Covid without salary increases… Pay it [Rural Allowances] which is our due,” said Thembinkosi Qwakanisa from Amathole region.

Qwakanisa was among hundreds of nurses from rural hospitals and clinics in the Eastern Cape who protested outside the provincial health department offices in east London on Wednesday. They were calling for rural allowances of 8% to 12%, which they say will also attract more nursing professionals to work in rural areas.

The nurses say the severance is part of a deal reached between unions and the provincial Department of Health at a bargaining council in 2019. They accuse the head of the health department, Dr Rolene Wagner, of ignore them.

“Wagner takes us back. Instead of paying, she brings this matter back to the negotiation tables. Even if we agree to renegotiate, they can start again from what was agreed in 2019,” Qwakanisa said.

Thandile Tshabalala, president of the Registered Practical Nurses, said the allowance was paid to all nurses working in rural areas until it was stopped in 2007.

“We then fought for years for her reinstatement, but she was only reinstated for other categories, such as professionals. [staff] nurses only,” she said. “We continued the fight led by NEHAWU until 2019 when the department conceded in the negotiation council that we were entitled to this compensation. But it was poorly implemented in five regions because only a few nurses benefited from it.

According to Tshabalala, around 5,000 registered nurses and their assistants are supposed to receive a rural allowance.

Tshabalala said he repeatedly tried to contact Wagner to resolve the issue to no avail.

Department spokeswoman Yonela Dekeda told GroundUp that Dr. Wagner was unaware of the nurses’ requests to discuss the matter with her.

“According to department officials, no settlement was reached with the group of protesters in 2019. The department aims to find a way forward on this by the end of June,” Dekeda said.

She said Wagner planned to meet with union representatives on June 21.

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