The Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is demanding that an emergency plan be set up to help protect its members in the Western Cape from ongoing attacks, warning that it could withdraw its services.
This follows the death of an 8-year-old boy who was being transported to Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital after the ambulance he was in was attacked and robbed by three men on the N2 highway in Cape Town.
The trade union said on Thursday it will write to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi to inform him of its intention to withdraw the services of its members in the Western Cape should the safety of their members not be dealt with. Hospersa general secretary Noel Desfontaines said in a statement that withdrawing its members' services would hopefully put pressure on the government to address attacks on emergency medical services (EMS) which hamper workers from providing medical attention to those who need it.
Hospersa wrote an open letter to the Western Cape Health MEC and had previously called for an intervention from the health department over incidents in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State and in Limpopo, but was told that the attacks were a criminal matter and not one for the health department to deal with. The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) has also written to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
"According to the OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) Act, employees have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, but as we have previously indicated, such refusal is often problematic. The reason for this is that EMS workers have a duty to serve the community and it becomes very difficult to refuse when somebody in need calls you. Unfortunately, as a last resort our members are considering withdrawing their service," Desfontaines explained. Attacks have taken place across a number of provinces with the Western Cape suffering more than 100 attacks in 2016, according to the statement.
"The increasing rate of these attacks on EMS personnel is alarming. It is regrettable that government's slow pace in addressing these attacks has now had fatal results," he added.
"The safety of EMS workers needs to be prioritised as they are the first to respond to medical emergencies when called upon. Neglecting their plea for safe working conditions is paralysing the service and depriving community members of medical attention at a time when they need it the most," Desfontaines said.