"We do the same work as nurses and even more, yet we are labelled as uneducated, it is painful," says community care worker, Leamah Sixholo.
She was speaking to representatives from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) during an dialogue on the impact of protest action on the right to access healthcare services in South Africa in Braamfontein on Thursday.
In April this year, the North West experienced the first of what became the 2018 health care workers shut down. A few weeks later in May, workers at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital protested inside and outside the facility over unpaid bonuses.
Sixholo said she was concerned that care workers were being sidelined and undermined. She works at the clinics in Mpumelelo and Ivory Park in Midrand to provide home-based care for people with special needs.
While Sixholo does not have a formal qualification, she has attended training offered by different non-governmental organisations.
"Our concerns are never heard. We are underpaid." Sixholo earns R2,500 a month and has four children. She said care workers were often forced to use their own money to buy uniforms and equipment. "My salary is not enough," she said. Care workers treated patients without gloves and masks which made them vulnerable to diseases such as Tuberculosis, she said.
"We go into communities and visit sick people and we care for them. We go the extra mile, working with no gloves or masks, some of my colleagues are sick as we speak."
Sixholo urged the Department of Health to treat care workers "as one of their own" and to provide them with better working conditions and equipment.
Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health said, "We will do our best to ensure that all health workers are given better working conditions. We will also work on making sure that the minimum service level of health workers is implemented."
According to representatives from the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa (Denosa), nursing staff work under bad conditions. Denosa is a trade union that represents nurses and professional midwives.
"More should be done to improve the working conditions of all nursing staff. A solution should be found," said Sibongiseni Delihlazo, Denosa spokesman.
He said more South African nurses and nursing staff were seeking work out of the country where they were appreciated and would get better salaries.
"People who rely on the services of public healthcare workers are disadvantaged when public health workers are understaffed or strike due to unresolved grievances," said Ashwell Jenneker of Statistics South Africa.
Those attending the dialogue agreed that a formal investigation was needed into the working conditions of all health workers.