The jobs of thousands of community health workers may have been temporarily saved as the Labour Court rules that the Gauteng Department of Health violated labour laws when it advertised their jobs without notice.
Community health workers celebrate with their attorney after the Labour Court ruled that they were effectively health department employees
Represented by lawyers from Werksmans Attorneys, Gauteng community health workers took the provincial department to court after the department advertised their jobs in early January without notice allegedly in violation of labour law.
Subsequently, workers allege the department told them to re-apply for their jobs and that only some workers would be hired back, according to a letter sent by workers’ attorneys to Head of Gauteng Department of Health Dr Barney Selebano.
Today, the Labour Court found in the community health workers’ favour ruling that despite their status as contract workers, community health workers are effectively department employees and should have received notice prior to their jobs being advertised.
In court, the Gauteng Department of Health had argued that community health workers were not employees as set out in the Labour Relations Act. Instead, the department said that community health workers were volunteers and thus that the Labour Court did not have jurisdiction to rule in the matter.
“The court pronounced that these employees can be referred to as government employees, however their employment conditions does not change from that of being contract employees of the department for a stipulated period”
According to Gauteng Department of Health Spokesperson Steve Mabona, the department will not appeal the judgment.
“The judgement is fair, according to our interpretation of it,” Mabona told Health-e News. “The court pronounced that these employees can be referred to as government employees, however their employment conditions does not change from that of being contract employees of the department for a stipulated period.”
Workers will now meet with lawyers to discuss taking possible further legal action to secure permanent employment through permanent or fixed-term contracts.
Community health worker William Mokoena one of the five applicants who took the department to court and one of more than 9,000 community health workers employed by the department.
Mokoena is also part of the community health worker group, the Gauteng Community Health Care Workers Forum. Mokoena has welcomed the court’s decision.
“I am so happy and cannot express how I feel right now,” said Mokoena, who added that his family depends on his monthly stipend but that a lack of pay slips had made it hard to access services like credit. “This is the beginning of my future and my family’s.”
“It was so hard working without any payment or a pay slip,” he told Health-e News. “Now I will be able to plan for my children.”
Community health workers have long complained about delays in payment. In 2013, delayed payments led Tshwane District community health workers near Pretoria to go on strike. – Health-e News.