COSATU statement on moving the country between the five(5) Covid-19 lockdown levels

The Congress of South African Trade Unions reiterates its position that the decision to move the country between the five (5) Covid-19 lockdown levels must be informed by science and not by the rapaciousness of profiteers. If the government after broader consultation feels that we are ready, then we need to move from level four to level three.

This decision must also be informed by workplace’s ability to contain the spread of the virus at the level of the workplace. Covid-19 will not disappear simply because we get tired of it, but it will be here for a long time until we have a vaccine.

The Federation’s approach to mitigating the spread of Covid-19 has always been to prioritize the lives of citizens and also their livelihoods. As workers, we favour an approach that incorporates both the health imperatives and also protects people’s jobs and livelihoods. These are mutually reinforcing rather than contradictory.

We welcomed the introduction of 5 levels of response to Covid-19, so that we could have a more focused and nuanced response.  Provinces, municipalities or even community levels can then be geared according to their rate of infections, risks etc. 

We approve of the call for more stringent lockdown regulations in the provinces with high numbers of Covid-19 infections. Every situation must be treated on its own merit. Economic relief mechanisms must be efficient and easily accessible so as to ease the financial hardship on persons affected by stringent lock down regulations.

A municipality or province experiencing low levels of infection should be allowed to reopen its economic and other activities to a lower level faster than provinces or municipalities experiencing high levels of infection. 

However, moving provinces and municipalities to lower levels must still be accompanied by the necessary health and safety measures like wearing of masks in public, social distancing, health and safety plans for workplaces and educational institutions, control points for entering the municipalities etc. They must still proactively use the time to further invest in their health capacity and infrastructure in the event of a change in infection levels.

We need increased screening and testing. The federation has always been concerned that the numbers of infections reported may not be an accurate reflection of the transmission of the disease. Efficient screening and testing will help to understand the gravity of this pandemic.

Government needs to move with far greater speed to deploy the 28 000 community health workers.  Screening and testing need to take place at all workplaces, and educational institutions daily as a matter of course.  The health services need to be reinforced and all health and essential workers provided with the necessary PPEs. 

The fact that a huge proportion of infected persons are nurses, doctors, supermarket cashiers, correctional service officers etc is an indictment on the shocking failure by their employers to provide adequate PPEs and other measures to protect workers from infection. Relaxing the level of the lockdown to level 3 must be accompanied by strict conditions of strict adherence by the employer to the health and safety direction and other relevant health and safety legislation. COSATU calls for the health and safety direction to be amended to include workers right to refuse dangerous work if there are not enough PPE at a workplace.

The role of labour inspectors will become increasingly important as more sectors of the economy are open. COSATU calls for the department of employment of labour to increase the number of labour inspectors on the ground, the lives of workers will depend on the proactive response of labour inspectors.

At the same time, we need to realise that we cannot afford to run an economy on UIF grants and food parcels. The lockdown will unleash an economic firestorm that will leave many people hungry and unemployed for a long time and the effects of such an economic collapse will be with us for a longtime.

We need to remember that even before the lockdown our economy plunged into a technical recession as recorded in the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. As these developments were unfolding, the working class was taking the severest brunt of this downward economic spiral which has been compounded by corruption and mismanagement. 

We know from the reports released by Statistics South Africa, Oxfam, and other research institutions that more than half of the South African population live in poverty. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty (i.e. persons living below the Food Poverty Line per person per month) had already increased to nearly 16 million.

Women, children, and the elderly are the hardest hit by poverty. This reality of the deepening and widening poverty was also confirmed by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which told us that ‘in per capita terms South Africans are poorer than they were in 2014’.Currently, the economy is functioning at a reduced capacity, so we need to balance both the health and also our socio-economic needs because we do not have the economic muscle to afford a long term shut down of our economy. 

Issued by COSATU
 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794