The National Education, Health and Allied workers’ Union (NEHAWU) is not satisfied by the state of readiness of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and Community Education and Training (CET) for the reopening for the 2021 academic calendar.

Following the announcement by the Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande that Post School Education and Training Institutions will reopen on the 18th January 2021 the national union convened a bargaining forum to assess the state of readiness of these institutions. Reports received at the meeting revealed that most institutions are far from being ready to welcome workers and students into campuses.

TVET colleges

Despite many circulars issued by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) on compliance we have noted that Health and Safety committees are still not formed as dictated by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. In institutions where they have been formed they are not functional at all. In some institutions they have formed COVID-19 task teams which are not in contravention with the law (OHS Act) and not consistent with the regulations as well. The Health and Safety Committees are meant to ensure compliance with the OHS Act, perform risk assessments and look into issues of infection control and prevention including enforcing COVID-19 protocols and regulations. Each and every workplace must have these committees for the workplace safety of both workers and students.

Colleges are struggling with the intermittent supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) with some lectures resorting to using their own money to buy masks and sanitisers for themselves and for the students who don’t afford to buy masks. Furthermore, most colleges do not have working thermometers to scan the temperature of those who access the campuses.

Most campuses do not have sufficient space to practise social distancing and this will lead to more transmission of the coronavirus as the class rooms are small and few. A clear plan of rotation of classes and division of students must be made available including the schedule of fumigation of the classrooms.

CET colleges

As a union organising workers in these colleges we have not seen a detailed return to work plan including a plan to ensure the safety of students. As far as we know, no college has formed health and safety committee and thermometers are also not working which makes it impossible to scan the temperature of those who access the colleges.

Most colleges have shortages of cleaners despite the approval of R45.7 million by Treasury to address the lack of cleaning services. There are some Community Learning Centres (CLCs) that do not have water supply and proper ablution facilities. This is a huge cause for concern as workers and students cannot wash their hands which leads to the growth of germs. Moreover, due to limited class room space it is very difficult to practice social distancing.

After analysing these reports the national union took a decision to deploy its National Office Bearers (NOBs) to all colleges across the country to look into the working conditions of members and workers in general. In provinces, the NOBs will be joined by provincial and regional leaders to visit Campuses & Community Learning Centres (CLCs) in order to assess the health and safety of workers and students. The delegations will meet members and workers before confronting management in every campuses and centres that will be visited. The visits will take place on the first week of March 2021. In this regard, we will consult our reliable allies in the terrain of education transformation such as the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), the South African Students Congress (SASCO) and Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA), which are critical in the transformation of the post schooling system.

NEHAWU takes very seriously issues of health and safety of its members and workers. We have written to the Department of Higher Education and Training to vent our anger at the low levels of readiness for the reopening of colleges. Our clarion call is very clear “do not abuse workers by calling them back to unsafe campuses”. We are demanding a response within five working days especially on the formation of health and safety committees in all colleges. The department has an urgent task of ensuring that colleges are safe for both workers and students. Management of colleges that refuse to provide safe working environment for our members and a safe learning environment for students must face punitive measures.

We believe that institutions of learning can become super spreaders if regulations are not implemented thoroughly by the management of these colleges, hence, we are more than willing to pick a fight with both the department and college management on the health and safety of our members, workers and students.

Lastly, the national union is still pursuing all outstanding matters from the settlement agreement signed in 2019.  We are currently preparing a fight against college principals that are contravening the settlement agreement by terminating contracts of ring-fenced staff. Furthermore, we will continue to push the department to address the issue of infrastructure backlogs in CET colleges as well as fast-tracking the implementation of standardised condition of service within the sector.

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: