Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus [COVID-19] in the country the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] has been on the forefront of highlighting the hardship and unsafe working conditions confronting workers during the pandemic. NEHAWU was the first union to question the level of preparedness by our government to deal with the pandemic and its ability to protect workers who had to selflessly save lives from the invisible enemy.
Our fight to protect our members and workers was underpinned by the factual assessments provided by our fact-finding mission report which was compiled after our National Office Bearers [NOBs] crisscrossed the country in assessing the working conditions of workers. The seven findings of the fact-finding mission report necessitated that the national union adopts a national programme of action aimed at protecting our members and workers against COVID-19 including rigorously pursuing the fight for the implementation of PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2018, filling of all vacant posts and the general condition of service of our members and workers.
The Special National Executive Committee [NEC] meeting analysed the progress and impact of the national programme of action as adopted on the 25th July 2020. The NEC is satisfied that major strides have been made since the national union adopted the national programme of action. Through the national programme of action we have managed to put the health and safety of workers at the top of the agenda of our government and employers. The impact our national programme of action has not only been felt in the country but has also made a good impression internationally as well.
At the earliest stages of the outbreak of the virus we had to fight to get an audience with government. We struggled to make government account on their state of readiness and plans to deal with the outbreak of the virus. We had to approach the court to force government and the Department of Health to meet with us to thoroughly discuss the working conditions of workers during the pandemic including issues of compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] Act and COVID-19 regulations.
The successes of the national programme of action include number of actions which forced government to listen and act on our demands. As part of these victories we note the following:
· A very comprehensive verification project on the state of occupational health and safety, including the provision of PPEs, in both public and private healthcare is now underway. Through this process, we have also succeeded in resuscitating research on vacancies of all nursing categories in public healthcare – each ward per hospital and clinic – with a view to work towards dealing with the staffing norms including deciding on the process of filling vacant posts and of absorbing Community Health Workers into government as per the discussion between the union and then Director General of the National Department of Health early in 2017. The outcomes of this exercise would be an important platform to drive the improvement of the working conditions as well as the provision of service to the working class which is an essential precondition for the successful implementation of the National Health Insurance.
· Our programme of action has also unlocked an opportunity to reclaim our gains from our strike of 2017 at the Department of Social Development. We are now in the process of engagements geared at effecting the in-sourcing of Secure Care Services and the ring-fencing of the funding of Conditions of Service, despite the austerity cuts in the baselines of departments. This includes, the implementation of measures for compliance with health and safety legislation and regulations as well as dealing with the corporate engineering exercise imposed by SASSA management that is geared at restructuring the agency.
· We are currently engaging with the Department of Employment and Labour to respond to our demands on the enforcement of occupational health and safety and regulations, including the non-compliance complaints that have been lodged by our provinces.
The resilience and militancy of NEHAWU members have once again proven beyond reasonable doubt that when workers are united behind a common cause they can force employers to accede to their demands. In this regard, we would like to salute our members for their tenacity in fighting for safe working conditions and improved salaries even at the face of adversity brought about by employers who used underhanded tactics which includes victimisation and intimidation.
Below is an update on the meetings that have been convened up to so far:
Meeting with the three Ministers
The NOBs of NEHAWU on the 15th September met with Minister of Public Service and Administration Senzo Mchunu, Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi and Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize accompanied by their Director Generals with the exception of the department of Employment and Labour. This meeting was convened to deal in the main with the issues raised in our memorandum handed-over on the 3rd September 2020. The Department of Employment and Labour did not bring anything tangible in the meeting instead the Minister used the time allocated to him to spread lies and attack the union and left the meeting earlier due to prior commitments.
The Department of Public Service and Administration made a presentation which did not respond to our demands while the Department of Health updated the meeting on the progress of the work undertaken by the NEHAWU General Secretary and the Director General particularly on three issues which relates to the verification on the adequacy of the provision of PPEs, existence and functional health and safety committees at workplaces in health sector which NIOH will conduct a survey on within the period from September up to 16th December 2020 and representative of NEHAWU to the Project Management Office.
The meeting agreed that the Public Service and Administration Director General and the General Secretary must meet to discuss the union’s irritation with the department while the national office bearers continues to engage the Minister, Senzo Mchunu on the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018 as the presentation of the department said nothing about the resolution. Moreover, the meeting also agreed that the team led by the General Secretary and Director General of Health must meet urgently to conclude on the outstanding issues so as to present a report in the next meeting.
Meetings between the General Secretary and the Director General of Health, Social Development, Employment and Labour and the Department of Higher Learning and Training are still ongoing and we will continue to give regular updates.
Meeting with the State President
On the 25th September 2020, the national office bearers finally met the State President who was accompanied by the Minister in the Presidency, Minister of Public Service and Administration, Minister of Employment and Labour and the Deputy Minister of Health which took 2 hours and a half discussing issues raised in the memorandum.
The State President apologised for taking time in responding to our memorandum as he was briefed about the discussions between NEHAWU and the Ministers which indicated progress to him in as far as the responses to the memorandum by three Ministers. At this meeting President Ramaphosa gave Ministers an opportunity to present their responses regarding issues raised in the memorandum and that later he would address the issue of the salary adjustment. All the two Ministers and the Deputy Minister presented their reports and we only agreed with the Deputy Minister though he was not clear with the details in as far as the progress is concerned, however, we confirmed the discussions and progress as it relates to the department of health.
NEHAWU made a presentation on the historic background regarding the multi-term agreement since 2010 up to 2018 settlement agreements in particular the difficulties experienced by the union which resulted into our signature to Resolution 1 of 2018 as a last union to sign in order to make it an agreement, the non-implementation of Resolutions of the last three bargaining circles and implications of the non-implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018 in relation to pay progression, medical aid and housing scheme.
The Minister of Employment of Labour made a presentation on compliance with OHS Act and other relevant regulations unfortunately the union totally dismissed his presentation as it was not speaking to the issues raised in the memorandum and contrary to the meeting between the union and the department. The union immediately exposed the Minister of his incompetence and arrogance and the fact that he needs to set aside time for the union in order to resolve issues raised in the memorandum.
The President directed the Ministers to meet with us in order to resolve all outstanding issues as he believes that talking will help in finding lasting solutions to issues raised. Secondly, he suggested that an urgent meeting with high level leadership of government with COSATU unions and those outside the fold of COSATU be convened to have robust discussion towards finding solutions in the interest of workers, the public sector and the nation and economy at large as he regarded and hoped that this meeting will find ways and means of resolving the impasse. The union responded to the proposal of the State President by saying that we cannot have a parallel process of court running concurrently with the process of senior leadership and indicated that one must die. In this regard, the union suggested that government must take the case out of court for better discussion for the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018. When the union was insisting to make the withdrawal of court as a condition the State President pleaded to the union not to attach any condition rather allow the high-level leadership engagement to ensue and indicated that the Minister of Public Service and Administration is present in the meeting and government has listened to the leadership of NEHAWU.
Meeting with the ANC top six officials
The meeting with top six of the ANC took place virtually on the 14th September 2020 where the leadership of the union provided a political caution which might have a negative impact to the hard-won gains of workers and to the relationship between the ANC and NEHAWU particularly as it relates to the forthcoming elections if the non-payment of salaries meant to be paid on the 1st April 2020 to public servant are not paid. The union further contextualises the non-payment as a reversal of the collective bargaining fought side by side by the Liberation Movement, the ANC shoulder to shoulder with the federation of workers, COSATU. The leadership of the national union shared its fact finding mission report for consideration by the ANC Health and Education NEC Subcommittee for further discussion as part of transforming the healthcare system in South Africa.
On the political caution, the top six appreciated the fact that the caution was presented to them for discussions and requested an opportunity to discuss amongst themselves including consulting the ANC deployees in government on the matter of the non-payment of salary adjustment and will revert to us soon. The leadership of the union felt that it is fair on their side to have their opportunity to reflect on our presentation as they were receiving our outcry for the first time formally while accepting to process our report to the subcommittee as proposed by us.
Having noted all these engagements and their outcomes, the special NEC accepts the report on the progress regarding the implementation of the national programme of action as adopted on the 25th July 2020.
Furthermore, the special NEC noted the outcomes of the special provincial executive committees held in the period of the 26th to 28th September 2020 on the state of readiness for full-blown strike by our members in all sectors the union organises.
NEHAWU vehemently opposes any discussion or process aimed at reviewing Resolution 1 of 2018 clauses 3.3 as it remains resolute on the implementation of the settlement agreement as is. In this regard, the union accepts the proposal of the State President which direct a discussion of the high level leadership of government and public sector unions on the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018 clause 3.3. The national union agrees to give space to these discussions which must be concluded by the end of October 2020 while calling government to immediately withdraw the court case on the declaration of the settlement agreement as unconstitutional or null and void in favour of the discussions at the high-level leadership.
The national union will convene its constitutional meetings physically (Member meetings, BECs, RECs, PECs and NEC) to report on the progress registered thus far but also share with members the obstacles on resolving other issues for guidance and solicit union’s mandate on the complete withdrawal of labour by all members across sectors it organises. Pre these constitutional meetings will start with Branch General Member Meetings, BECs and the convening of Regional Executive Committees from the week of the 12th to 16th October 2020 while Provincial Executive Committees are to be convened during the period of the 19th to 23rd October 2020 and followed by the normal national executive committee on the 30th and 31st October 2020 for final determination based on progress if any regarding the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018.
While waiting for these discussions at the high-level leadership and different departments, all provinces will convene war rooms to strengthen their actions based on sector issues and needs which might lead to either workplace mobilisation to hand-over memorandums, district actions and any other possible action provinces will decide upon but differently to lunch hour pickets that have been taking place for some time now and such actions must be reported to the national office through the national war room for support.
As NEHAWU, we will go all out to support the COSATU National Strike to take place on the 7th October 2020 and the union regard this action as an integral part of keeping the momentum of its mobilisation for sectoral based actions such as NSFAS strike on the 7th October 2020 and TVET fight on the implementation of 2018 settlement agreement and in support of SASCO national campaign planned for the 14th October 2020 and other potential sectoral actions.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org