The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] is disappointed by the incompetence and dismayed by the high level of arrogance displayed by the so called Minister of UIF supposedly the Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, and how this has put workers lives at risk.
On the 22nd August 2020 a meeting with the Minister was convened by the leadership of NEHAWU where he brought together a delegation led by the Director General of the department to discuss compliance related matters with the Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Act as a custodian for enforcement and monitoring including issues pertaining to conditions of service in the department, and non-compliance by the department with the direction of the Minister in terms of Regulation 4 of the regulations of R480 of 29 April 2020 issued by the Minister of COGTA in terms of section 27  of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 [Act no 57 of 2002].
At this meeting the Minister displayed his ignorance and little knowledge about his responsible to enforce compliance to all employers with the OHS Act as he actually thought he is narrowly responsible for the compliance of his own department and not other government departments. This is a big blunder on his part considering that since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country we have always highlighted the issues of non-compliance by employers and the lack of safety inspections in workplaces.
The Minister arrogantly told us that his department can never be in all workplaces because of the capacity and shortage of personnel as it relates to inspectors as if this is not part of his competence as the Minister of Employment and Labour. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 NEHAWU has been calling for the Department of Employment and Labour to ensure that inspectors are available to ensure compliance and enforce the OHS Act in all workplaces, however this call has fallen on deaf ears and has left workers vulnerable and exposed to hazardous working conditions.
The matter of compliance was part of the issues raised at court in April 2020 and in fact after withdrawing our case in favour of engagements, Minister Nxesi with his department insisted on continuing with arguing the case instead of enforcing compliance as a custodian of the OHS Act. This clearly demonstrated the lack of interest in protecting workers. Many workers have been infected by COVID-19 and some have lost their lives in the frontlines because of government and employer’s failure to comply with the OHS Act. These workers have been failed by the department and the Minister responsible for their safety in the workplace.
NEHAWU has been alerting and lodging cases of non-compliance with the department through different offices of inspectors in different provinces and to date none of our cases have been attended to. At the national level, we referred formal inquiry requests in terms of OHS to the Chief Inspectors for non-compliance with the OHS Act by certain government workplaces in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape on the 5th August 2020.
We have also referred other several disputes for non-compliance with the OHS Act to the Labour Inspectors and Provincial Chief Inspectors.
· In the Eastern Cape we made 5 referrals to the Department of Labour between May and August 2020. They received 2 Compliance Orders out of the 5 and there has been no response to 3 of the 5 referrals.
· In the Free State one referral was processed during August 2020, and a compliance order was issued for one institution which the employer attempted to comply with.
· In Gauteng we referred 3 cases, and there has been no response from the Department of Labour till to date.
· In KwaZulu-Natal we made 12 referrals between May and August 2020, Compliance Orders were issued for 2 referrals by the department, and the remaining 10 there are no responses.
· In Mpumalanga we made 9 referrals and there was only 1 response indicating that the employer had complied, there are no responses to the remaining 8 to date.
· In the Northern Cape 10 referrals were made between June and August 2020, only 2 inspections were made, and reports are outstanding. The department acknowledged receipt of the 8 cases but to date there has been no response.
· In the North West 2 referrals were made between May and August 2020, compliance orders were issued by Department of Labour, but to date there is still no compliance by the employers.
· In Limpopo we made 6 referrals during August 2020, and the Department of Labour responded by saying they are still investigating and to date we still do not have responses.
· In the Western Cape 3 referrals were made between June and August 2020 and there has not been any response to date.
On the 22nd August 2020 the above referrals and non-response from the Chief Inspectors were raised with the Minister and his team. The Director General of the department promised to deal with these issues with immediate effect, to date not much progress has been made thus far, however, a meeting has been confirmed for the 24th September 2020 to take up all the issues raised. While the Minister twiddle his thumbs and swims in a sea of confusion workers are left vulnerable because of his incompetence and sheer arrogance.
NEHAWU has been observing the incompetence of Minister Nxesi for some time even when he was at the Department of Public Works which he left in tatters. Our view is that if no drastic change is effected he will leave the Department of Employment and Labour in disarray as he has already started running it to the ground. He has only been paying attention to the Unemployment Insurance Fund [UIF] and neglected his role in enforcing the health and safety of workers in workplaces across the country. Even with the focus on the UIF, money has been looted and many people have not received their payouts.
Under his watch workers have been recklessly exposed to the virus by employers who do not comply with the OHS Act while others have been reduced to a life of poverty because they could not access their UIF payments. All in all Minister Nxesi has not been of great service to the workers of this country. In this regard, we will raise his incompetence with President Cyril Ramaphosa in our upcoming meeting.
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: email@example.com