NEHAWU reaction to the situational update by the Minister of Health

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] notes the update by the Minister of Health this earlier this morning.

The Minister’s address took place when South Africa has the 5th highest numbers of infections in the world. As of last night, the country had 521 318 positive cases and 8884 mortalities. These numbers reveal that the virus shows no sign of slowing down. Furthermore, these numbers necessitate that more stringent and effective plans to combat the spread of COVID-19 are put in place as a matter of urgency.

However, we are disappointed and underwhelmed by the timid response by the Minister on the rising numbers of frontline workers who are getting infected with the coronavirus. The response by the Minister once again does not inspire confidence to the thousands of heroes and heroines who brave their lives on a daily basis to save the lives of our people. The Minister in his report retorts that “The Department of Health therefore notes, with concern, increasing allegations of health care workers contracting the Coronavirus on the line of duty due to lack or poor quality of personal protective equipment”. It is repugnant that the Minister thinks that the rising number of healthcare workers is a mere allegation when workers lose their lives on a day to day basis because of the lack of PPEs and the non-compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Act.

We note the latest statistics on the infected frontline workers which suggests that as at 2 August 2020 24,104 workers tested positive while 181 workers have lost their lives. However, we continue to doubt the veracity of the numbers considering that many healthcare institutions conceals the test results of workers and deny workers the right to go on self-isolation for fear of being understaffed.

As the national union, we are looking forward to the engagement with the Minister and the Director General of Health on our fact-finding mission report which show facts about the state of readiness of hospitals which we regard as a battle field to defeat this virus not allegations as referred to by the Minister.  Moreover, in his report he notes “reports from Unions collected through their fact finding missions and also the ones indicating shortage of PPE in some hospitals”. We want to remind the Minister that it is NEHAWU who undertook a fact-finding mission and submitted a report to him first before releasing it to the media and the public on the 27th July 2020. It was not “Unions” but NEHAWU. The statement goes on to say that provinces have been instructed to ensure that PPEs are immediately made available. Our questions therefore are; if PPEs are available why they have not been given to workers who have been complaining about the lack of sufficient PPEs in their workplaces and where are these PPEs kept?

It was agreed in the meeting of the 8th April 2020 between the Minister and NEHAWU that all provinces and workplaces would form health and safety committees to look into the safety of workers. However, these committees are still not in existence and if the instruction was given to provinces to form the committees in April what is different with the instruction that was given today to form the committees. As NEHAWU, we believe that there must be accountability and consequences for those who are not obeying instructions. Once instructions have been issued they must be accompanied by monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure that implementation takes place. The crisis we are currently facing does not require lip service but it dictates that those at the helm of our healthcare system must roll their sleeves to protect our first line of defence against the virus.  

Once again, the union is prepared and committed to defend and protect the lives of frontline workers who are subsequently expected to save the lives of the nation and their families with or without government’s assistance. 

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968; December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969; Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500 or email: