COSATU statement on the safety of health workers and other essential service employees during the lockdown

The Congress of South African Trade Unions salutes all health workers and other essential service employees for their bravery and dedication in fighting the deadly Covid-19 virus. Across the country, brave and dedicated doctors, nurses, community health carers, paramedics, allied health, social service practitioners, cleaners and morgue workers are facing an extraordinary assignment of taking care of the nation under extreme situations. These heroes and heroines are overworked and under-resourced in our overloaded health facilities.

They are doing this commendable work despite an offensive by a government that is refusing to honour Resolution 1 of 2018 on salary adjustments.

Despite this devotion, these workers are continuously being let down by a health department that is constantly failing to ensure that they get adequate protection from infection. The failure by the department of health to provide these workers with adequate Personal Protective Equipment is criminal, period.

We have seen about eighteen (18) doctors lose their lives in Italy as a result of coronavirus and in Spain about three thousand nine hundred (3,900) health care workers have become infected. In South Africa, the St Augustine Hospital and Duduza Clinic are some of the health facilities that have been closed due to the virus.The safety of our members is non-negotiable, and we will not allow the Minister of Health and his department to send these workers and breadwinners to their early graves.

In response to this reckless endangerment of health workers by the health the department, COSATU unions in the health sector (NEHAWU, DENOSA, and SAEPU) met this morning to discuss the department’s failure to ensure that all workers in the health sector are provided with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment. The unions expressed total support of the decision by NEHAWU to take the department to court to force them to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act; 1993 [as amended] during the COVID-19 disaster.

They also condemned the misleading statements by the Minister of Health Zwelini Mkhize claiming that he has met with the unions and the federation to discuss this matter. These lies have angered workers and poisoned the relations between the minister, department and unions.

COSATU and its unions have noted the latest correspondence from the Minister of Health, where he is inviting the unions to a meeting tomorrow, 07 April 2020, on the day of the court case.  In response to this letter, the unions have informed the minister that they are willing to meet with him after the court case has been heard and resolved. The reality is that the federation and its unions no longer trust the minister of health and the entire administration.

Government’s decision to renege on implementing the 2018 Collective Agreement and the latest antics by the minister of Health have eroded the trust between the workers and government. Going forward the Federation working with its unions will now insist on legally binding agreements because of this trust deficit.

We shall meet with the minister to also demand that these workers be provided with transport services and where necessary with accommodation and catering services. They should all be paid the necessary danger allowance and also be provided with full wellness services because many of them are mentally fatigued.

The fight against Covid-19 should not have workers as unintentional casualties.

Issued by COSATU
 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

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