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Staff at frail care unit on strike

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“The kitchen has been locked and all the patients were left with no breakfast or medication in the morning, while there was also no one to look after their physical needs.”

SILENCED: The owner of Minerva Gardens Frail Care Unit, Kobus van der Walt, tries to silence his staff after they started chanting for him to leave a DFA journalist alone. Picture: Soraya Crowie

NURSING staff at the Minerva Gardens Frail Care Unit embarked on a full-blown strike yesterday morning, leaving the elderly, many of them bedridden patients, without food, medication or health care.

The staff originally went on a go-slow on Thursday last week to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with management and an alleged lack of employee rights.

The workers initially indicated that they would continue with their go-slow until Monday, when they were due to meet with the manager of the frail care unit, Kobus van der Walt.

According to information received from concerned members of the public, who have elderly family members at the centre, some of whom are bedridden, Van der Walt apparently did not honour his meeting with the workers and a decision was made to embark on a full-blown strike yesterday.

“The kitchen has been locked and all the patients were left with no breakfast or medication in the morning, while there was also no one to look after their physical needs.”

The employees last week accused management of imposing harsh working conditions with little pay.

“They added that they also did not get any benefits and had to work with sickly people without any protective gear, like gloves or masks. The employees added that not everyone was treated equally, even though they did the same work.

“We are not paid the same salary. You will find that one gets paid more than the other but they do the same work. If the manager likes you, he will pay a little extra. He also makes it clear that you should not tell your colleagues about the extra payment you receive. That is unfair as we are all trying to make a living and we are faced with the same challenges.”

They added that they had not received bonuses for several years while the last time they received an increase was two years ago.

“We got a measly increase of R100 and R200. That did not even make any difference in our lives. We have to spend R40 to come to work each day but get paid a salary of R2 400. How can anyone be expected to survive on that?”

Yesterday’s meeting ended with Van der Walt ordering the striking employees to leave the premises. It also resulted in a confrontation between members of the media and Van der Walt.

According to a member of the public, the manager and staff of Aida, an estate agency owned by Van der Walt, were called in to assist in the kitchen, while the night staff were asked to help with the patients.

In April this year it was reported that Van der Walt was being sued by the retirement village for tens of thousands of rand that he allegedly owed.

The Minerva Gardens Share Title Units (MGSTU) instituted legal action against Lezmin, a closed corporation, of which Van der Walt is the director.

According to the court papers, Van der Walt is the owner of the frail care unit at the retirement village, as well as the laundry, hairdressing salon, the office, lounge, step-down facility and kitchen, a staff tea room and two storage units.

In terms of the Sectional Title Act he is liable for payment of the monthly levies for these units. The court documents state that Van der Walt had, however, fallen in arrears with the payment of monthly levies and interest in the amount of
R84 122.41 for the period October 1 2017 to December 31 2017.

The claim is for the payment of the amount owing, as well as interest calculated at 10.5 percent per annum, the cost of the suit, as well as further relief.

The matter was set down to be heard in the Northern Cape High Court on April 16.

According to a statement of his account with the body corporate (MGSTU) dated March 1 2018, the amount owed by Van der Walt had escalated to just under R500 000.

In July an out of court settlement was apparently reached in which he agreed to monthly repayments to bring his levies up to date.

Attempts to contact Van der Walt yesterday afternoon to obtain comment were unsuccessful.

In comment made to an online news website Van der Walt stated that services at the unit were continuing as normal and that they were making use of volunteers.

Negotiations with staff at the unit are also ongoing.