Unemployed pharmacists demand jobs

Unemployed pharmacists camp outside the KZN Department of Health’s head office (Natalia building) in Pietermaritzburg. Supplied

Unemployed pharmacists camp outside the KZN Department of Health’s head office (Natalia building) in Pietermaritzburg. Supplied

Published May 4, 2024


IN A desperate bid to get their plea for jobs heard, unemployed and community service pharmacists staged a sit-in outside the Department of Health offices in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last week.

Representatives of Unemployed Pharmacists SA - which has members in all nine provinces - said the move came after the various stakeholders, including the national and provincial health departments and the office of the president, failed to respond to their memorandum of demands.

In the memorandum, which was handed over and emailed to the various stakeholders on April 15, the group demanded immediate allocation of employment and letters of appointment for over 150 post-community service pharmacists in each province. They also called for the absorption of all community service pharmacists upon completion of their service.

They further demand that vacant positions of pharmacists, who had exited the system or were promoted, be adequately filled by the post-community service pharmacists to ensure a continuous cycle of employment in the public service.

Masego Moepye, a group representative in Gauteng, said the stakeholders had failed to respond to their memorandum by April 24, prompting them to embark on the sit-in.

Moepye, 25, of Pretoria, said she was a community service pharmacist, whose service would be completed at the end of May, but she had not secured employment.

“This is mainly due to the lack of posts, especially within the health department. They are not absorbing community service pharmacists anymore. There were also several posts withdrawn by the government, with no reason as to why.

“When it comes to the private sector, there are plenty of posts. However, you are required to have between two to three years of experience. Furthermore, when completing community service, you have no years of experience so it's highly unlikely you will be called in for a job in the private sector,” she said.

Moepye said there had been no response to their demands.

“For those provinces where members couldn't handover the memorandum, we made sure to send emails to the presidency, and both the national and provincial health departments informing them of the deadline, even on the day. We waited all day, refreshing our emails constantly each and every hour, but nothing was received. We are still awaiting a response, to this very day.

“Due to the lack of response, we took it upon ourselves, as unemployed pharmacists as well as those completing their community service, to camp outside the health department buildings until we obtained a response,” she said.

Moepye, who has a honours degree in Pharmacy, said due to the lack of state employment, they were limited to locum positions.

“However, those locum positions are not always guaranteed on a daily basis. It's a jungle out there. First come, first serve. You also need to have experience, otherwise, you won't be called to locum.

“We have been sending in multiple CVs hoping to be employed in the private sector but to no avail. This has affected us financially, emotionally, mentally and physically. Despite obtaining one of the most difficult degrees in the world, we are sitting idle at home. It simply doesn't make sense.

“We are hoping that the health departments will hear our cry for help. We are essential workers in the healthcare system and should be treated as such. If they can help place us for community service surely they can make means of assisting us in finding employment. Be it the private or government sector.

“We will wait for their response while camping out. It's sad that we have to resort to such measures to get attention from the government to find employment,” she said.

Meanwhile In KwaZulu-Natal, scores of unemployed pharmacists and community service pharmacists have been camping outside, the Department of Health’s head office (Natalia building) in Pietermaritzburg since April 25.

A 26-year-old unemployed pharmacist from Pietermaritzburg, who declined to be named, said she had only been able to secure locum positions since completing her community service in January 2022.

The woman, who holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, said due to a great demand for employment, locum positions had also become scarce.

“My last locum position was in February. Since then I haven’t been able to secure another locum position or permanent employment. It is frustrating, especially when I look at other people working in the finance and commerce fields. Their careers are booming.

“Furthermore, the private sector has taken advantage of the fact that jobs are scarce and pharmacists are settling for less than what they deserve to earn out of desperation. The health department needs to urgently help us by providing more opportunities,” she said.

Another unemployed pharmacist, 25, of KwaDukuza, said she was left feeling disheartened.

“As someone who enjoys what they do, I am losing hope. I am constantly applying for jobs in the private and State sectors, but there is no response. I recently applied for a post at a government hospital but there was no feedback - even to say I was unsuccessful. I found it to be strange because government institutions are required to interview every candidate who meets the minimum requirements of the job post, which I did. When I contacted the hospital, I was informed that the post had been withdrawn. There were no reasons given to me.

“I had a similar experience applying for a job at a private hospital. I later heard that they had received 200 applications in one week and were no longer accepting more, even though the original advert said the application period would be open for another week. The job later on went to an internal transfer but they were required to 'advertise' it for legal reasons,” she said.

The woman, who holds a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, said she was considering other options.

“I think about this every hour of the day - What else can I do? I think about pursuing studies in a different field, or moving abroad. However, all of it is not viable without a set income. It's difficult not to feel hopeless, especially because I love being a pharmacist. It definitely takes a toll on your mental health. I feel purposeless and miss working and helping my patients.

“My last hope is that the health department can open up posts in each province, and once these posts are opened up I hope they will consider each and every applicant equally,” she said.

The national and provincial health departments and Office of the President had not responded at the time of going to print.