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A dark cloud looms over La Gratitude Home for the Aged, as its residents find themselves heartbroken after being deserted by the very people meant to care for them.
Multiple staff members from the facility embarked on a strike, picketing outside the old age home.
General Secretary of Varona Kopano Workers Union of South Africa (YKWUSA) Patrick Kubheka explained, “We are conducting a protected strike against victimisation of the staff, the staff being paid below the minimum wage and La Gratitude not agreeing to the wage increase requested in March 2022.”
Reflecting on the wage increase, Kubheka stated that the employees wanted a 10% increase, whereas La Gratitude only offered 3%.
With the workers demanding their voices be heard, La Gratitude’s Chief Executive Officer, Jomari Batista explained that the employees’ demands were not as clear cut as they portrayed.
Confronting allegations of the victimisation of staff, Batista explained that prior to the protest action, the Old Age Home’s management team addressed the issue. “We have a process which they can follow to report victimisation, but no one has come forward on the matter,” she declared.
With employees allegedly not naming those guilty of the alleged victimisation, La Gratitude could not help them resolve the matter.
Describing the demands and accusations as false, Batista added that as for the issue of wage increases, La Gratitude simply could not afford a 10% salary hike.
“We gave a 3% increase in April, but we cannot afford more. We are a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), and we don’t get funds from the Government to pay salaries. All the monies we get for the salaries comes from the residents living here, of which 75% are on State Pensions.”
As State Pensions are not lavish, this leaves La Gratitude Home for the Aged doing its best to provide the best care possible, despite the challenges it faced.
“We are in dire need of financial support, as we have been trying to keep the doors open since January of this year. We can’t put our residents on the streets, they need our support and care. But at the moment, we are running at a loss of R189 000 a month and a deficit of R3 million a year. In my 20 years at La Gratitude, we have never been hit so hard before,” an emotional Batista explained.
Contributing factors to the Old Age Home include COVID-19, the economic climate, and the number of open flats at the facility’s retirement village which were meant to help generate extra cash flow.
Now with the strike in motion, which is the first of its kind in the facility’s 37 years of existence, La Gratitude faces a new and daunting challenge.
With 104 residents and the staff protesting, leaving La Gratitude’s Management team working tirelessly to care for the people, the facility is now looking to the community for support.
According to Batista, there are several ways that the community can help the facility during this dark and turbulent time.
- Financial support, as nappies alone cost La Gratitude approximately R750 000 a year. The facility also has to fork out between R110 000 to R140 000 a month for their Municipal bill.
- Basic medical supplies such as plasters, bandages, and so forth.
To cover the void left by the staff on strike, Batista added that the facility would appreciate volunteers to assist them in caring for the elderly. While a number of the residents are mobile, there are residents who are bedridden, have Alzheimer’s, and are in need of frail care support.
“We are mostly affected during the night, when we need help to care for our residents,” affirmed Batista.
With several community members already stepping up to the plate to assist with the residents’ care, Batista emphasised that they would appreciate people with medical experience coming forward as well, to help with the distribution of medicines.
As La Gratitude’s Management team now looks to the community for help, Batista further explained that the residents were exceptionally hurt by the strike action.
“They are heartbroken and feel deserted. They are traumatised by the strike,” she emphasised.
As the facility does not know when the strike will come to an end, the question now stands, will Newcastillians come to support La Gratitude during their time of need?
For those who would like to assist as volunteers and/or sponsorship, Batista said they can contact La Gratitude at 034 315 5466 and speak to Sr Simelane, the Nursing Services Manager.
For those who are already assisting, Batista said, “We would like to thank the community who have been helping us and for their ongoing support.”
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