The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] is vehemently opposed to the reopening of post-schooling institutions without concrete and tangible guarantees that workers and students will be safe from this deadly virus called coronavirus.
As NEHAWU, we hold a strong view that post-schooling institutions which include both Universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training [TVET] Colleges are not ready to reopen and to resume normal operations. We firmly believe that the safety and health of workers and students is sacrosanct and the Department of Higher Education and Training [DHET] has the obligation to ensure that learning and teaching takes place in a safe and conducive environment.
We therefore call on the government to consider very carefully any decision to prematurely reopen post-schooling institutions at a time when recent reports shows that the spread of the virus is spiking and as country we are yet to reach the peak of the outbreak. Any impulsive and irrational decision will undermine the broader efforts to flatten the curve and the disruption of the spread of this infectious disease.
A comprehensive plan must be presented by the department to all relevant stakeholders on the detailed measures to be put in place before the reopening of these institutions. In this regard, NEHAWU demands that the department considers the following:
· Disinfection of all buildings including residences five days before workers and students return to campuses.
· Address the issue of infrastructure especially in TVET Colleges to ensure that social distancing happens. This includes the splitting of classes where there is overcrowding.
· Procurement and delivery of Personal Protective Equipment [PPEs] must precede any reopening of institutions. The PPEs must correspond with the headcount of workers and students in campuses. We are therefore opposed to procurement processes taking place whilst workers and students are already on campuses.
· We call on the department to establish Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Committees as per the provision of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in order to deal with issues of health and safety, hygiene, clean ablution facilities and training on the proper and safe use of PPEs, infection control and prevention.
· Post schooling institutions are big communities and this necessitate that responsive arrangements are made to put mobile clinics for screening and testing on campuses including treating chronic related diseases of workers and students when a need arises.
NEHAWU calls on the department not to move forward fast with the reopening before verifying that all the above measures are in place. Further consultations with relevant stakeholders must be prioritised with a view to obtain a broader buy in.
NEHAWU is opposed to the introduction of e-learning by these institutions in the post schooling system. Our opposition is driven by the fact that most students especially those from working class background, students from rural areas and students from historically disadvantaged institutions would be excluded from benefiting from e-learning as historical imbalances are still prevalent and redress has not be fully addressed.
Most students don’t have funds to procure devices and data plans while others are in areas where there is no sufficient network coverage. Moreover, lectures and students have not been introduced to e-learning which will require mass training first before implementation.
The national union will request more time from the DHET to consult its members for a proper mandate. We will also engage the South African Students Congress [SASCO] as our strategic ally in the post-schooling system to formulate our joint positions and later engage the South African Union of Students [SAUS] for the same.
On Basic Education
NEHAWU also supports its sister union and reliable ally in the terrain of struggle the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union [SADTU] in rejecting the decision by the Department of Basic Education [DBE] to reopen schools as early as next week. Similarly, the department must comply with all demands made by SADTU which include the disinfection of schools, social distancing in class rooms, reductions of class sizes, screening of learners and teachers and the delivery of personal protective equipment which includes masks, gloves and sanitisers.
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: email@example.com