POPCRU statement on the increasing Covid-19 infections within the Criminal Justice Cluster

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) has noted with concern the dreadful, increasing number of Covid-19 infections that continue to adversely affect officers within the Criminal Justice Cluster (CJC), with recently released figures indicating a recorded 3907 infections within the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) with 48 deaths, while the South African Police Service (SAPS) has recorded 5972 infections with 53 deaths to date.

From the onset, as the state President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown and its regulations, it became clear that as essential service providers, our members within the CJC would be required to play a significant role in the frontline through implementing and monitoring the different regulatory prescripts governing various approaches in curbing the spread this pandemic, while also maintaining law and order.

To this extent, we formed part of the established National Steering Committees within the SAPS and the DSC, wherein we play an advisory role and monitor compliance in ensuring the best interests of workers. We participate in these platforms on the basis of guidelines of protocol, and to ensure that the employer follows correct labour practices.

We are however concerned that despite directives and guidelines taken at these levels in ensuring the smooth functionality of roles,  some Provincial Commissioners and Commanders at station level have been acting contrary to these directives. They have opted to put their interests before the health and wellbeing of officers.

Likely due to pressure, most have been pressurised to maintain and keep police stations and correctional centres open at the compromise of the already limited staff complement, and have been mainly concerned about how they are viewed by their seniors instead of prioritising safety.

Officers across different correctional centres and police stations have been made sacrificial lambs by this arrogance demonstrated by commanders, and without any consequence from the top management.

It is unacceptable that these efforts made at the Steering Committee levels by the top management with trade unions do not find expression within lower structures due to these station commanders. This unfortunate state of affairs has left us with no other option but to start instituting criminal cases against all those commanders who are flouting the Disaster Management Act, the regulations as well as the decisions of the Steering Committee.

They should take direct accountability for the increasing rise in infections among officers.

There are littered cases of officers being threatened for having reported being symptomatic and requesting to self-isolate, while those in self-isolation are threatened of being given leave without pay, and therefore being forced to return to work before full recovery.

At this time when the pandemic is ravaging the country, there is simply no control over the behaviour of these commanders from within the Steering Committee as they continue to flout stipulated processes.

Most station commanders have become a law unto themselves without any consequence from the management and should be held accountable for the many infections incurred during this period. They should be charged for attempted murder for knowingly placing the lives of officers at such risk.

These acts are narrow-minded and defeat the aims to ensure policing in the long-term as officers are already understaffed and getting infected.

We urge them to instantly desist from such activities, as we will from now on take drastic action against them. We view their actions as tantamount to attempted murder, and if the Steering Committee fails to reign in on their disregard to following protocols, then it might as well be considered as an accomplice to this onslaught.

In terms of Section 66 of the Compensation for Occupational Injury and Disease Act (COIDA), when an employee contracts a disease at the workplace, the employer must ensure that the employee’s medical expenses and compensation are covered. We urge our shop stewards on the ground to ensure that when our members contract the virus at work, employers cover all medical expenses, and our members are issued with G111 forms.

With the current Covid-19 conditions our country is facing, we urge the employers in the DCS, SAPS, Traffic, and private prisons to provide transport to all members so the spread of the disease is curbed.

Lastly, we demand strict compliance to the directives on leave, quarantine protocols, isolation, and all other measures that have to do with Covid-19 related issues within the CJC.

Issued by POPCRU on 17/07/2020