The Department of Social Development was moved to the Beacon Hill office park in 2011. Initially, the building was a warehouse which later converted into an office space. The conversion was not done correctly because the building has no opening windows and no ventilation. Because of the lack of ventilation workers suffer from heat strokes and some have resigned to protect their lives. More than five workers have lost their lives due to breathing difficulties.
Our members and workers suffer from breathing problems and other diseases because of the deplorable state of the building. The 1st floor is usually drenched in the sewer if the toilets are flushed on the second floor which leaves a horrible smell and wet workspaces. The building has naked electricity wires which pose a danger to the safety and health of our members and workers. Blackouts are the order of the day in the building which also does not have a backup generator which at most times disrupt service delivery to clients.
Currently, there are three reports that have proven that the building is non-compliant with Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] standards. The Department of Labour, NOSA and BCM have all issued certificates pointing out that the building is unsafe and not fit to house workers. However, the Department of Public Works remains unmoved by all these reports of the non-compliance of the building.
In 2011 our members refused to enter the building for more than three weeks and they were victimised by the department for fighting for their safety and health. The contract with the landlord was renewed in 2016 with clear instruction that the building must be renovated including the installation of a water tank, opening windows and a backup generator. However, that was not implemented and we are worried as to why the contract was renewed when it was non-compliant with OHS standards. The contract signed with the landlord stated that these renovations were urgent and necessary but to our surprise three years later they have not been implemented.
Our members and workers have not been working since the 12th of February 2019 because of an acid leakage in the building. In retaliation of the decision by our members, the department has resorted to intimidating and victimising NEHAWU shop stewards and members. We call on the department to desist from mistreating and threatening our members for fighting to protect their lives from this death trap of a building.
The lack of proper and safe working space for workers ultimately disadvantages clients who rely on the Department of Social Development for sustenance and other services. The working class and the poor need the services from the department hence it has to be always open and they must not be subjected to hazardous elements when they go to seek help. As things stand, workers are accommodated at the Bisho youth and child care centre which is a prison for juveniles and poses safety risks to workers.
On the 28th February 2019, public works sent a letter to workers instructing them to occupy 5 different buildings that are not ready for occupations and are not sufficient to accommodate all the staff of social development workers. The 5 buildings can only accommodate 260 while the workforce stands is 540. Currently, we are in the process of interdicting that letter as it does not seek to address the current problems.
The national union is also in the process of briefing an advocate to look into the issue of the lease of the Beacon Hill office park building. We believe that some corruption might have taken place and we want the contract to be annulled and the money paid for rent recouped from the landlord. The money recouped must be used to compensate workers for their medical bills. The department must also pay back the money deducted from workers during the 2011 stay away because of the unsafe state of the building.
NEHAWU will consider everything possible at its disposal for an urgent intervention including bringing this matter to the attention of the provincial alliance about the horrible state of the building and the impact all this has on service delivery to the working class and poor who are the main voting base.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU Media Liaison Officer) at 082 455 2500 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org