12 May 2021
As the world celebrates International Nurses’ Day on 12 May 2021 and South Africa prepares to roll-out 16.5 million COVID-19 vaccinations in phase 2 of the national programme from Monday 17 May 2021, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) has called on government to reconsider age eligibility.
Phase 2 prescribes that only adults aged 60 years and above, and those living with comorbidities will be eligible for vaccination. The federation understands and supports the prioritization of this group based on their vulnerability as advised by the scientific and medical communities. However, FEDUSA would like the government to also note the that the vast majority of workers that keep the economy running and are exposed to the pandemic on a daily basis as they commute and from work are under 60 years of age. The federation would therefore like government to reconsider the vulnerability of those workers under 60 years of age and allow them to be also vaccinated in phase 2 of the national roll-out programme.
So far, the progress of phase 1 of the vaccination programme – which prioritized nurses and other healthcare workers has been below expectations. This is despite the AstraZeneca setback that temporarily halted its continuation. The target of vaccinating a total of 1.25 million nurses and other health workers by the middle of the year is still a bridge too far. This is because only 270 000 of them have been vaccinated. The back-up plan is now to vaccinate a further 500 000 by mid-May and the remaining 600 000 in phase 2.
In addition, the protracted shortages of Personal Protective Equipment – which has been aggravated by the large scale theft of these life saving products by political cronies – has severely undermined the work of nurses throughout all the provinces of the country. These challenges need to be addressed urgently in the context of the pandemic.
The government has also effectively undermined the vaccine roll-out programme by tabling a zero percent wage increase offer for public servants – which include thousands of nurses – at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council. This move has demoralised nurses and the rest of the public servants and is unstrategic in the context of the pandemic. The state’s zero percent offer compares poorly with public sector trade unions’ demands of a total of 7 percent across the board. This has set the stage for conflictual industrial relations in the sector over the next three years.
FEDUSA has also welcomed the theme for this year’s International Nurses Day: ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A Vision for Future Healthcare’. The theme seeks to show how nursing will look like going forward as well how lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic the will help the nursing profession transform the next stage of healthcare, especially public health.
For interviews please contact:
Ms Dorothy Nokuzola Ndhlovu
FEDUSA Vice President: Gender and Social Justice
076 424 8747
Ms Riefdah Ajam
FEDUSA General Secretary
079 696 2625
FEDUSA Media and Research Officer
072 637 8096