Nurses uniforms may soon be replaced by less conventional outfits such as pyjamas and traditional regalia.
This was the warning issued by the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) after six of the nine provincial health departments failed to pay nurses their uniform allowance.
Denosa on Wednesday accused provincial health departments of “prolonging the non-payment of uniform allowance to nurses, which should have been paid in April this year”.
“The uniform allowance was long agreed upon and is a collective bargaining agreement. Each year, however, government continues to drag its feet in implementing payments until nurses either come to work wearing pyjamas or embark on a protest action because they are tired of wearing torn uniforms,” said Denosa president Simon Hlungwani.
According to Hlungwani, only three provincial health departments – KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape – have paid nurses their R2 500 uniform allowance.
“We are warning the rest of the provincial health departments of looming chaos in hospitals and clinics should they prolong the non-payment of allowance to nurses.
“As things stand we are left with no choice but to call on affected nurses to resort to a pyjama strike or wearing traditional clothing to work until such a time as the departments comply and pay the outstanding allowances,” said Hlungwani.
He also added that this allowance did not cover the full cost of a nurses’ uniform.
“As it is [R2500] is a mere fraction of what government should actually be paying towards nurses’ complement and quality uniform,” said Hlungwani.
Denosa acting general-secretary, Cassim Lekhoathi, warned of nurses’ unhappiness over the matter and reminded the Gauteng health department that “it is not long ago that chaos erupted at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital over non-payment of bonuses”.
“It looks like the unrest at the hospital has not been a lesson to the department, just as the Life Esidimeni disaster was never a lesson for them,” said Lekhoathi.
Lekhoathi said Denosa had raised this issue “sharply” at the South African Human Rights Commission dialogue on balancing the rights or health workers to strike with the right of patients to healthcare that was held early in July.
Lekhoathi said the failure to respect collective agreements by the employer was often the cause of chaos and strikes in many facilities and this instance was no different.
Hlungwani also added that currently most of the provincial health departments who have not made the payments were “using the excuse” that the national health department and Treasury had not given them the directive to make such payments”.
“This argument does not hold water as three other provinces have already paid. If they could make payments the rest of the provinces should also follow suit.”
The health department’s director of media relations, Foster Mohale, confirmed that non-payment of uniform allowances “affected some provinces and was not caused by any wrongdoing within the national health department”.
“It is not true that a directive was not given by the national department, the directive was given and delays in payment are at provincial levels,” said Mohale.
At the time of publication, the Gauteng health department had not responded to questions from City Press on the failure to pay the allowance.
Since nurses are classified as essential service workers, they are required to wear uniforms by law. Until now, nurses uniforms have not been provided, let alone as a pilot, despite the country’s nursing strategy of 2011-2017 having promised that this would be done by 2018.