The matter has been set down for Tuesday, 7th April 2020, at 10am at the Labour Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg while trying to find the soonest day as Tuesday is too far. In the meantime, national union will await answering papers from the respondents should they wish to exercise that right and in the event they do answer NEHAWU will reply accordingly. After court the process are complied with then the matter would proceed before the court for determination.
The national union took the unfortunate but necessary decision to take the legal route against the Minister of Health after many unsuccessful attempts to engage him or the department. On numerous occasions, we pleaded for audience with the Minister to alert him to the non-compliance with the OHS Act by his department and the provinces during the fight against COVID-19.
We have a trail of emails, text and Whatsapp messages asking for meetings in order to engage the Minister on dangers faced by our members on a daily basis in healthcare facilities across the country including our offer to assist government in mitigating the risk of infection to our members and workers. Our pleas fell on deaf ears until we decided to send a letter of demand on the 30th March 2020 with an ultimatum that lapsed on the 1st April 2020.
To our surprise, the ultimatum was also ignored by the Minister of Health hence the decision to steam ahead with the legal route to compel him to guarantee the safety of our members and workers in general. The national union demanded that the Minister exercise his powers in terms of the OHSA to prohibit the performance of those duties that endangers and/or risk the health and safety of NEHAWU members and healthcare workers in general, up to until there has been full compliance with the Act, and, the Department of Labour Regulations and Guidelines on Covid-19 and ensure that our members are provided with Personal Protective Equipment of the specifications stated in the guidelines with immediate effect.
Even currently our members and workers are still highly exposed to occupational risk in which they are forced to work without the necessary Personal Protective Equipment as per clause 4.4 of the Workplace Preparedness: COVID–19 Guidelines of the Department of Employment & Labour at different workplaces across the country
The Minister has publicly pronounced that the safety of healthcare workers is a priority and that they should be issued with PPE, it is also a matter of public record, including admissions by government, that not all healthcare workers who require PPE are in fact issued with what is required to safeguard their safety.
However, the Minister has failed to ensure that our members are provided with PPE and that they are not required or allowed to work in unsafe conditions. Furthermore, he has also failed to develop and issue guidelines or protocols for rendering of services without the appropriate PPE in a manner that mitigates any risk of infection to employees.
NEHAWU finds it disappointing and disheartening that we had to resort to approaching the court to compel our government to protect our members and workers who are at the forefront of testing, treating and quarantining our people especially those infected with the coronavirus. As a result, after many failed attempts to engage the minister we decided to seek relief from the court to compel the Minister to comply with his legal obligations protect our members.
Our members and workers continue to face the risk of harm on a daily basis as they are required to work without the necessary protective measures. For example, eleven of our members have contracted the coronavirus at the St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban after being exposed to patients who have tested positive. The national union finds it extremely unacceptable that the hospital management was so reckless up to the point of losing this large number of workers while we struggle with understaffing. Because of the loss of the eleven workers, the KwaZulu-Natal government is considering closing the hospital thus further limiting the number of beds needed to treat patients.
NEHAWU is not taking this matter lying down and has written to the Chief Executive Officer of NETCARE to demand answers. The national union will continue to do everything in its power to protect workers against the recklessness by our government. In this regard, we will intensify our fight for our members to get all the necessary PPE’s to protect them against the virus.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org