Fate of community health workers uncertain amid battle over minimum wage, working conditions

Fin24 reports that most community health workers (CHWs) in SA, except those in Gauteng, earn a stipend of around R4,000 per month, without benefits like pension or medical aid, and without the surety of a permanent pay cheque. They have been fighting for better working conditions for almost a decade – with their main goal being to get on the government’s payroll, in line with their colleagues in Gauteng, who are classified as level 2 public servants. At that level, an employee such as a CHW can earn between R9,000 and R10,500, and have benefits like a housing allowance, pension and medical aid.

The government, though, wants to set up a “sectoral determination” for CHWs instead, whereby the basic conditions of employment for workers in the field would be standardised. In the case of CHWs, this would include a set minimum wage, possibly a travel allowance when they have to work outside of their usual communities, and suitable housing for those having to work in remote areas, on farms or at mines. Currently, CHWs are contract workers who are employed for 12 months at a time, either by provincial governments or nonprofit organisations. Their salaries have been standardised nationwide since 2018 following a bargaining council agreement.

The National Minimum Wage Commission has started looking into how CHWs are employed and is currently sifting through responses from the public after the initial announcement in December that the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) was looking into a sectoral determination for CHWs. DEL spokesperson Teboho Tejane advised that they were still reviewing the submissions and could not comment on the outcome of the investigation yet. Union bosses, though, say setting up a sectoral determination is a way for the government to wiggle out of incorporating CHWs into their formal workforce, as was agreed to in negotiations with labour organisations in 2018.

by Nicole Ludolph

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