We have been unambiguous, clear and consistent in communicating our Executive Structures’ decisions in respect of lack of legally binding commitment of employers that will not only regulate but also enforce provision of high quality PPEs, instead of the apparent obsession with profit over lives of workers during the COVID-19 period. We declared that: “We demand the employers to cease all acts of unilateralism disguised as interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 whilst in fact are pursuing cost saving measuresat the expense of workers. Should this not stop and escalate unabated as seems to be, we will be left with no option but engage in struggles, which include but limited to industrial action to defend our members and protect their interests!” At the time, it would have seemed as if this moment was too distanced, and now in the 21 days into National Lockdown the reality is hits our faces, and the following are but some of the employers where cases of workers testing positive for COVID-19 infection and how they responded in some or all such cases:

Dischem: We are particularly concern of reports which count more than 24 employees infected in Boksburg branch with unconfirmed case that might increase the numbers at Farramere Mall are not yet confirmed, and no programmes are shared with the Union to curb future occurrence or spread of similar incident which might risk the rest of employees.

Shoprite: whilst a number of cases have been reported, the company has been seen to be in a rush to reopen trading by simply getting a service provider to fumigate in less than a day and the very next day open for business whilst workers continue being screened. In Shoprite Ziyabuya, Port Elizabeth, the company simply ignored the fundamentals of dealing with an environment and persons who may have been in the company of an infected person. This is the same company where workers were made to share face shields and then claim their Regional Manager did not know that such PPE cannot be shared because he was not a Health and Safety expert! 

Pick ‘n Pay: At Waterstone Village in Somerset West and now at Alexander Malls cases were reported which an immediate reaction was store closure and deep cleaning programmes were unleashed. We are told that, plight of those infected workers is critical but stable, but, no real commitment from the company to either take the Union into confidence or go publicly as what would be the standard of care to the infected and more importantly their respective families who might have came into contact with them unknowingly. Whilst in the process of issuing this statement news has been made public of the two COVID-19 positively tested Pick n Pay workers, today at some undisclosed Malls; yet no formal communication to the union with regards thereto; as has become a norm.

Makro: a Manager in Carnival tested positive and the employer only closed for seven (7) hours and then opened for trading. They also declare that where a worker was tested positive, those who may have been in his/her company must self quarantine, with no pay and the store simply continues to operate. The company is also coercing workers to apply unnegotiated and unregulated on-job flexibility, otherwise give up their leave or contract of employment.

Spar: Report obtained that at Malalane Spar one female employee tested positive, at point of writing this report no progress report was received on the status of the employee and what really did the company provide as support to her and her loved ones.

As can be seen, these leaders who are dominating the retail sector of South Africa evidently have no preventative measures or plans, at the core of which would have been the value of the lives of workers who, being also in the frontline, are exposed to the cold face reality of every shift presenting a risk to be infected, with life threatening effects arising therefrom. Despite at display the full might exposures of heartless inhumane ills of Capitalism amongst all these big captains of this sector and not only Spar, is blatant unpatriotic and gluttonous selfishness fraught with insensible and inhumane attitudes.

Despite bold public statements, some of which were, coupled with huge sums of financial commitments that were somewhat spectacularly announced through media; as means intended to, as and when the need arise, be unleashed to mitigate any possible infections arising from COVID-19. Contrary to such commitments, we are now told by our members employed by these employers that mere time off taken to visit the health facility results in the said company effecting a cruel/ferocious principle of no-work-no-pay; even in cases where poor workers test positive of COVID19. That coupled with outright refusal to acknowledge liability of required quality medical care and associated bills that are as result of such exposure to COVID-19.

SACCAWU holds a view and believes that, the aforementioned public commitments, financial or otherwise were supposed to prioritize the principle of saving lives, instead of maximization of profits at the expense of workers’ lives.  This conduct is in violation of the very basic tenets of human value as enshrined in the Universal Declaration; which describes ethical principles that are based on shared human values. It reaffirms the commitment of the psychology community to help build a better world where peace, freedom, responsibility, justice, humanity, and morality prevail above all including the love of money. Employers have now seen gold and are even forcing workers to take leave, some without pay, during the lifespan of the pandemic, thus making workers a sacrificial lamb in response to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic; if not apportioning blame of them, be it wittingly or otherwise, for the insurgence and scourge of this pandemic on them.

We take a deem a view on the somewhat deafening silence from the offices of Presidency, as well as the Ministries of Employment & Labour and Trade & Industry  who our view,  have been vocal in evolution of regulations governing the COVID-19 in these affected economic sectors we are organized in. Continued silence in respect of the rising acts of human and workers’ rights violations is rather unfortunate and unwarranted, for we know the values that our striving Democratic State seeks to embrace and implant to the nation in the moments like crisis of this magnitude brought about by the COVID-19.  

We are equally disturbed that when employers were declared essential services and allowed to trade, this was not counterbalance this with declaring trade unions unessential services; thus unwittingly suspending the industrial relations machinery and infrastructure, with negative and dire consequences to workers. When determination to classify retail as part of essential services during the COVID-19 was pronounced, we concluded that basic human values would characterize responses to any side effects, risk of infection and general threats to lives of workers who risked their lives in defense of the nation, in whatever extent of contribution one could make at the moment of need or national crisis. To this end, simple provision of regular legitimate test(s) on site or in a close proximity to either from home or at workplaces, payment of bills arising from such test if any, in the event that workers fall victim to the CORONAVIRUS care be provided to the victim and immediate family members, guaranteed income for the duration of being quarantined or hospitalization and a cover of other social benefit as they may be necessary possible that, if not serviced may have adverse effect to the affected family of that particular working person.

SACCAWU has resolved to gate and now accordingly taking legal counsel as to the options open to her, with the intention to administer processes that must compel the joint and several liability claim against employers, including Dischem, Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay, Makro, Clicks and Spar, whilst at the same time engaging the offices of Presidency and the Ministries of Employment & Labour as well as that of the Department of Trade and Industry.

In conclusion: We embrace all other drastic preventive measures that are pronounced and canvassed as stated in media by the State; led by the President and the EXCO of the NEDLAC on Friday 17th April 2020, which is aimed at the steady economic recovery beyond COVID-19.

Issued by SACCAWU Media Unit

Mike Michael Bonile Sikani   &         Lucas Ramatlhodi

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