The Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU] and its affiliate the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] condemns the misleading media statement issued by the Department of Health yesterday.

In the statement the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, reports thatWe have engaged the unions, COSATU and NEHAWU, on the matter of Personal Protective Equipment”. We want to inform our members, workers and the general public that is far from the truth. The Minister did not engage COSATU or its affiliate NEHAWU on the matter of PPE’s.

NEHAWU has been persistently trying to have meetings with the Minister to discuss the safety of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic with no success. Dr Mkhize has shunned all meeting requests by NEHAWU and this led to the union approaching the court in a bid to compel the Minister to take proactive measures to protect workers from contracting the virus while in the line of duty.

We find it revolting that the Minister elected to mislead the nation about this important issue. Our view is that he regards this issue as a Public Relations problem rather than an issue of life and death. These lies by the Minister are going to poison relations and harden the attitudes of workers and it will not end well.

We are beginning to doubt that the Minister is aware of the magnitude of the problem we are facing and the danger the non-compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety Act by his department has on the lives of our members, their families and their communities.

The department of Health will not be allowed to treat these brave workers and breadwinners like its glorified slaves. The commitment to saving lives should start with those of workers and their families.

NEHAWU would have never elected to go to court if the Minister was open to engagements and was providing answers to our demands including the contributions made in how to mitigate the dangers of the virus. This is not supposed to be a one man show but a coordinated collective efforts by all South Africans to combat the spread of the virus. Labour is an important stakeholder especially a health union like NEHAWU whose members are at the frontline of fighting the virus. However, the Minister has gone out of his way to snub the contribution of the union including guaranteeing the safety of workers.

South Africa has a history of staff shortages especially in health and education. The spread of COVID-19 presents new challenges to our health system which is dangerously understaffed and usually struggles with attending to patients. The loss of workers through being exposed to the virus because of the lack of PPE’s further strains our already overstretched workforce. It is for these reasons that we need to protect workers as we need all hands on deck.

We call on the Minister to stop gambling with workers lives. Health workers are going to die because of these lies and an indifferent attitude from the department. Peddling lame propaganda in the middle of a crisis is highly irresponsible.

COSATU and NEHAWU remain ready and willing to discuss ways of protecting these workers and breadwinners from this killer virus. But sitting idle while workers are being failed by an irresponsible government is not an option. The safety of our members is non-negotiable.

We remain constructive partners in the broader fight against the virus but our immediate priority is to protect all our members and workers from reckless and intransigent employers.

Issued by both COSATU and NEHAWU NOB’s

For more information contact:

Bheki Ntshalintshali COSATU General Secretary at 082 563 6973, Zola Saphetha NEHAWU General Secretary at 082 558 5968

Or Sizwe Pamla COSATU National Spokesperson at 060 975 6794, Khaya Xaba NEHAWU National Spokesperson at 082 455 2500