COSATU statement on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Cabinet’s response to the rise in Covid-19 infections

COSATU has noted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement on government’s efforts to deal with the spike in Coronavirus infections. We acknowledge the stated interventions by the government to reinforce the fight against Covid-19. The reintroduction of a curfew and the re-imposition of stricter measures to deal with this spike in infections is long overdue.

The Federation continues to support a two-pronged approach that seeks to save both people’s lives and their livelihoods.  The nation is navigating uncharted waters and we need to be adaptable and responsive to circumstances because there no perfect solutions.

What is critical at this stage is to address the major gaps that have been identified with a sense of purpose and urgency.

Workplace safety– Workers will only be safe under the leadership of employers and a government that appreciates and respects workers fundamental rights and worker’s Constitutional right to life. The Covid-19 virus has thrived in workplaces that generally limit the rights of workers as workers are disempowered to exercise any labour rights for fear of victimization and abuse by the employer. Noncompliance and the abuse of workers’ rights is the biggest threat to the containment of the Covid-19 virus in the workplace. Compliance with the various directives from the government in response to the virus is a matter of life and death. Employers that continue to evade the Labour Relations Act through dubious workplace deceptions pose as much danger to workers and society as the Covid-19 virus.

The Department of Employment and Labour needs more funding to ramp up the number of health and labour inspectors it employs because 2000 is far too little to ensure the health and safety of workers. We agree that all workplaces should be legally bound to enforce the wearing of masks and those that fail to implement these health and safety plans must be shutdown.

Health Facilities– We welcome the efforts to recruit more health workers, but more needs to be done to fill the chronic vacancies in critical clinical occupations. It is unacceptable we have 32 doctors per 100 000 people and 144 professional nurses per 100 000 people.

It is also still troubling to note that some provinces still experience irregular supply of medicines, lack of some critical medical devices, no maintenance and largely dilapidated infrastructure. The lack of occupational hygiene endangers the wellbeing of healthcare workers and patients.

Essential Service Employees. We note the salutations by the President for essential service employees. But we are worried that this appreciation and acknowledgement does not amount to paying them what is due to them. It is disingenuous for the president to offer platitudes to these workers while his administration still treats them like glorified slaves than can be pickpocketed at will by the National Treasury.

Workers will feel more recognized for their bravery and dedication if the government were to honour the signed agreements and fast-track wage agreement negotiations for both public servants and municipal employees.

The provision of PPEs for essential and other workers, and learners remains inadequate.  The local production and procurement of PPEs need to be increased.  National government needs to intervene with provincial departments and local governments who still refuse to procure locally produced PPEs.

Transport- The transport system remains the nation’s Achilles heel in the fight against the spread of Coronavirus. The failure by municipalities to prepare taxi and bus ranks and governments decision to allow local taxis to fill their taxis to full capacity is a big problem. Government has blinked first against the taxi industry and things can only get worse from here. Appeasement is not a strategy that will work in the taxi industry.

Health and safety plans for Metrorail lines must be immediately developed and enforced. 

Alcohol and Substance Abuse– We agree with the decision to suspend the sale and distribution of alcohol to relive our hospitals of the burden of alcohol related emergencies.

Unemployment Insurance Fund and SASSA– We are disappointed that the president said nothing about the need to extend the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s Covid-19 relief fund for those workers over 60 years of age or with co-morbidities, including workplaces that remain under operational restrictions beyond June. The government needs to intervene and capacitate the UIF which halfway through July has repeatedly failed to begin paying June payments.  Equally, the Cabinet needs to deal with the abysmal failure of SASSA to pay the R350 grant promised by the President to long term unemployed workers. 

The UIF needs to crack down on employers who continue not to contribute their due payments to the UIF and those that are pocketing UIF payments due to their workers.  All employers must be audited and be compelled to immediately provide proof of payment of these funds to their employees.  Offending employers must be arrested.

Economic Relief and Stimulus- Government must engage with Organised Labour and Business at Nedlac on a credible stimulus plan that can grow the economy. This needs to be developed and concluded in time for the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement due to be tabled at Parliament in 3 months.

Treasury needs to sort out the failure of banks to disperse more than 5% of the R200 billion relief offered by the government to businesses.  This failure is scandalous and threatens the revival of the economy. The banks are suffocating the economy.

We are also disappointed by governments failure to allow workers who have lost income to access salary relief from their pension funds.  This cannot be delayed any longer because there is a risk that thousands of workers will resign simply to cash out their pensions.

Working and Learning from Home- Employers in both the public and private sector must do more to enable workers, learners to work and study from home.  This must not simply be an option for those with resources.  Workers, students, and learners must be provided with the necessary equipment and data to work and learn from home.  This must include the long-promised drastic reduction of data prices.

The handling of the reopening of schools by the government to date has been anything but reassuring.  The current rush to reopen whilst thousands, especially in townships, lack water, PPEs, and other protective measures is a recipe for disaster.  

The government must reflect and engage seriously with teachers’ unions and school governing bodies on how and when schools can be reopened. Otherwise, the government risks a rebellion by teachers and parents.

Issued by COSATU

 Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

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