The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] notes the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the decision by the National Coronavirus Command Council to move the country to Level 2 of the Covid-19 lockdown levels from the 18th August 2020 as part of government’s Risk Adjusted Strategy.
While it is encouraging to note that the recovery rate has risen to above 80% and new infections are decreasing, however, we hope this announcement does not breed complacency. These numbers certainly do not mean that the virus is gone and we can return to normality. Extreme caution and adherence to the regulations and guidelines still needs to be exercised in order to save lives and to avert new infections. The unbanning of both alcohol and cigarettes should not lead to another influx of people needing help in healthcare facilities further straining our overworked healthcare workers.
As of last night, 11 677 people have lost their lives to the virus and we believe that this should underscore the need for all our people to exercise and follow best practices and ways to avoid getting infected by the coronavirus including staying at home, observing social distance, wearing masks, and washing hands with soap for 20 seconds or using alcohol based sanitisers. In this regard, we call on South Africans to comply and cooperate with entrusted authorities and their orders during level 2 in order to flatten the curve as a means to avoid a spike in new infections.
However, our main worry is that the numbers of infected frontline workers is still increasing on a daily basis. Recent statistics released by the Department of Health even though they are questionable reveal that as of August 4, 2020 the number of infected frontline workers stands at 27 360 while 240 workers have lost their lives to the coronavirus. The most affected workers are nurses who are primary caregivers with 14 143 infections followed by doctors at 1644 infections.
The main reason behind these horrible numbers is the lack of sufficient Personal Protective Equipment [PPEs], non-compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Act, and understaffing as revealed in our fact-finding mission report. The speech by the President did not speak to the urgent need to procure more PPEs including centralising procurement as part of stopping the corruption that has robbed many frontline workers of the much needed PPEs. Government needs to be seen dealing decisively with corruption and those found to have benefitted from the outbreak of the virus must face the long arm of the law.
Every time the President makes these speeches he emphasis government’s appreciation of the role played by frontline workers in saving the lives of our people. However, appreciation without any improvement into the working conditions of our members and workers including their salaries is just empty rhetoric. The President and government are well aware that workers have not been paid their salary increase that was due on the 1st April 2020 and the Department of Health has not yet given a mandate to the departmental negotiators at both the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] and Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council [PHSDSBC] to re-open negotiations on the risk allowance or motivational incentive as part of recognising and appreciating the good work and the life sacrifices demonstrated by frontline workers as a form encouraging workers do more until the fight against COVID-19 is won.
A caring government would not only shower workers with empty words but would focus on improving their health and safety in the workplace including improving their remuneration as part of boosting their morale. While government continues to pay less attention to the health and safety of workers we will continue to implement our programme of action aimed at protecting and defending workers against COVID-19. As NEHAWU, we are steaming ahead with the mobilisation of all our members in all sectors we organize in order to send a clear message that the health and safety of workers is of paramount importance and that collective bargaining agreements are sacrosanct.
As many workers return to work we hope that government will continue to ensure compliance with regulations and guidelines which include social distancing, protection of workers who are above the age of 60 and those with comorbidities. The Department of Employment of Labour also has to come to the party and enforce the compliance to the regulations and guidelines. It can no longer be a spectator while workers are infected on a daily basis by reckless employers.
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