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January 2016

The Health & Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) is opposing the bail for the suspects who attacked Emergency Medical Services (EMS) members in Cape Town over the festive period.  The Union calls for measures to be taken to protect its members being attacked by gang members in so-called red zones in the Cape Town area.  In the meantime ambulance personnel would have the right to refuse entry into certain identified dangerous areas.

“From a labour relations point of view, Hospersa is obliged to act in the best interests of our members.  We will never advise our members to ignore any lawful instruction or to not do their jobs,” said Hospersa’s legal manager, Sean McGladdery.  “In this regard, our leadership in the province has consistently and actively engaged with management.  We applaud management for acknowledging that our members have the full right not to go into so-called red zoned or temporary red zone areas,” he said.

A red zone is one which the department has so designated because of attacks on EMS personnel and, whilst solutions are being sought through such active engagement with all stakeholders, an undertaking has been reached with departmental management that EMS staff responding to such calls will be accompanied by a South African Police Services (SAPS) vehicle and personnel.  Still, this has proven to be less effective as the police have also been attacked during escorts.

Hospersa has received reports from its provincial leadership that Western Cape EMS has seen a total of seven (7) attacks on ambulances during the festive period.  This includes multiple incidents where ambulances were stoned, and one incident where the crew was mishandled by a crowd and several incidents where crews were robbed of their personal possessions at gunpoint.

“Hospersa therefore fully endorses and supports the Department’s own reported initiatives to oppose bail in this instance,” commented McGladdery.  “It is also our position that we reluctantly endorse the Department’s message that our members should not respond to red zone calls, awaiting further interventions by the Department of Labour, SAPS, CPFs [Community Policing Forums] and community leaders in the affected areas.  In this regard we also seek a firm, written undertaking by the MEC [Member of the Executive Council] and HOD [Head of Department] to give clear guidance.  This should include an announcement that SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] and relevant protocols will be provisionally amended to allow members the discretion not to respond to red zone calls, in order to afford them the necessary safeguards from later disciplinary action,” McGladdery said.

Since the spate of attacks Hospersa’s provincial leadership has engaged with the director and operational manager in question.  Management indicated that they also found it difficult to deal with these events.  However, the mandate from Hospersa members remained to withdraw ambulances from the affected areas, based on the premise that members need to work in safe and healthy conditions at all times.  This principle is entrenched in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

At that stage management were cautious of supporting withdrawals of services and the obvious repercussions of such.

“We are told that we currently have up to fifty EMS members who are receiving post traumatic stress treatment due to these incidents.  Even worse, these members are expected to use their own medical aid for treatment as COIDA [the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act] doesn’t cover such incidents as injuries on duty,” said Hospersa Western Cape Provincial Chairperson Michael Serelina.

“Some of the solutions we have discussed include CCTV Cameras on all ambulances, idling ambulances while patients are loaded, multiple ambulances dispatched to affected areas in order to ensure safety in numbers, as well as having private security companies utilised to escort ambulances to these zones,” said Serelina.

A meeting of the task team (consisting of labour and employer representatives) was set up to take place this week.

On Tuesday, 27 December 2016 at about 07:30, members of EMS (ambulance) were robbed of their cellular telephones by two armed males while they were attending to a patient in Mandela Park in the suburb called Harare in the township of Khayelitsha (a township on the outskirts Cape Town).

On Wednesday, 28 December 2016, SAPS members followed up on intelligence received from the community and apprehended two suspects, aged 19 years old.  The toy gun used in the robbery was also confiscated.

Further investigations lead to the arrest of a third perpetrator who was in possession of the stolen items he purchased from the perpetrators.  The three suspects, aged 19 and 24 years, appeared in the Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 30 December 2016 on charges of aggravated robbery.

At the time, the cluster commander of Khayelitsha Major General Brand thanked the community for their support in fighting crime. He also applauded the members for a job well done.  On 30 December 2016 EMS embarked on a march to the Khayelitsha Magistrates Court, where three perpetrators were appearing.  Then already Hospersa vowed to oppose the bail applications of the perpetrators.

“While we appreciate the Department’s [of Health] stance in not disciplining members who do not respond to such calls, the members are placed in an invidious position,” said McGladdery.  “EMS members are appointed to professionally assist members of the community in need – many of whom come from the very same communities they are attempting to serve.  They at all times do their best to provide a professional and dedicated service but are being compromised in doing so by criminal elements,” McGladdery added.

“It is the position of Hospersa that we will never advise our members to act contrary to any law and neither to compromise service delivery.  They do, however, find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place as they are.  Ambulance personnel are quite literally placing their own lives in peril at times when they are required to perform their duties in such circumstances.  Every employee is expected to further the interests of their employer and it is an offence to disobey a lawful and reasonable instruction.  However, an employer is equally obliged to deploy al reasonable resources to ensure the safety of its employees.  Even though some degree of immunity has been granted by the Department, this does not seem to be official.  This state of affairs leaves our members in the precarious position of juggling the fear for their physical health and safety, their calling to serve the community, as well as possible impending disciplinary action,” McGladdery argued.

“What Hospersa would like to see is a sustainable equilibrium between the needs of the community and the basic situations our members are exposed to.  We must remember that our members have a genuine desire to serve the community, especially when a person requires urgent medical attention.  Still, Hospersa cannot support the granting of bail to those who attack our members.  This will not only send the wrong message but because it places our members in a situation of potential further risk to not only their livelihood, but also to their lives,” McGladdery concluded.


Total words (excluding heading):  1172

For interviews please contact Hospersa’s Manager (Legal Services), Sean McGladdery on 060-537-5132.

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