COSATU statement on government’s decision to move the country to Covid-19 lockdown level three

COSATU notes the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the decision by the National Coronavirus Command Council to move most of the country to Level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown levels, starting on the 1st of June 2020. This decision by the government is aboutbalancing both the health and also the socio-economic needs of the people

We welcome the move because it speaks to our approach to prioritize the lives of citizens and also their livelihoods. COSATU is in favour of an approach that incorporates both the health imperatives and also protects people’s jobs and livelihoods. These are mutually reinforcing rather than contradictory.

We approve of the call for more stringent lockdown regulations in the areas and provinces with high numbers of Covid-19 infections. Every situation must be treated on its own merit. 

All those provinces and municipalities that will be moving to lower levels must still be accompanied by the necessary health and safety measures like wearing masks in public, social distancing, health and safety plans for workplaces and educational institutions.

We need increased screening and testing to ensure that the numbers of infections reported are an accurate reflection of the transmission of the disease. Efficient screening and testing will help to understand the gravity of this pandemic.

Relaxing the level of the lockdown to level 3 must also be accompanied by strict adherence by the employers to the health and safety direction and other relevant health and safety legislation. COSATU calls for the health and safety direction to be amended to include workers right to refuse dangerous work if there are not enough PPE at a workplace.

The role of labour inspectors will become increasingly important as more sectors of the economy are open and the Department of Employment and Labour must increase the number of labour inspectors on the ground. The lives of workers will depend on the proactive response of labour inspectors.

Health and Safety: COSATU will be demanding that all workplaces must have a signed health and safety agreement. Employers must be legally held to this by the department of employment and labour,

The agreement must include safe transport, the provision of PPEs and sanitizers, social distancing at the workplace, regular testing, and screening at the workplace, as well as other measures that can reduce the number of people on duty per shift through staff rotations, where possible. 

All workplaces must have a health and safety plan in place. It should be negotiated between the employer and workers and must be in line with the Department of Health and Employment and Labour guidelines. It must include the employer providing workers with the necessary PPES and other protection measures like plastic face shield for cashiers.

There must be regular testing of workers and screening of customers or clients. Workers must be provided with paid sick leave if infected and also be provided with the necessary medical care by the state or their medical aid schemes. There must be regular sanitisation of the workplaces and those who can work from home need to be allowed to do so.

Transport –Public transport remains our weakest link and is likely to rapidly spread the virus. The government needs to come with taxi subsidies to ensure that they stick to social distancing rules. We need to have health and safety marshals working with law enforcement agencies at all taxi ranks and transport interchanges.

Special attention needs to be given to Metrorail which has so far failed to present a health and safety plan that will allow it to open. This is critical for workers, especially in our three main urban provinces.

Where possible, employers should assist workers to find safe transport to work like shuttle services so that they can avoid using the public transport system. This could also be in a form of a transport allowance.

Education institutions– Health and safety plans are also needed for schools and tertiary institutions. Some private schools and well-resourced universities have already implemented online learning.

Many schools are not able to do so and need urgent government intervention. The private sector needs to also share resources with public schools. Internet providers must contribute by providing free access to learning websites, cell phone companies need to donate data and tablets.

Inspectors: The government will table a supplementary budget to Parliament in July. In the meantime, it is critical for the departments of Health and Employment and Labour to be given additional funding, so that they can double the number of health and labour inspectors, who will enforce the health and safety plans.The current ratio of one(1) inspector for every  thousand (1000) workplaces makes it impossible to ensure that these plans become reality and workers lives are protected.

Issued by COSATU
 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

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