The National Education, Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) is extremely worried about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in institutions of higher learning across the country.

This past week 55 students tested positive for COVID-19 at the University of Pretoria while other universities have also reported a growing number of transmissions. On the 19th January 2021 the national union pleaded with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to ensure that all institutions are ready to welcome back workers and students including putting all necessary measures in place to avert COVID-19 infections. This was after the department failed to consult labour as an important stakeholder in the sector. It seems our calls fell on deaf ears as we are now faced with a growing number of COVID-19 cases.

On the 12th February the national union convened a bargaining forum to assess the state of readiness of institutions of higher learning and reports received at the meeting revealed that most institutions are far from being ready to welcome workers and students back into campuses. This prompted the national union to deploy its National Office Bearers (NOB’s) to do a fact-finding mission to assess the state of readiness of the institutions of higher learning for the start of the 2021 academic calendar. The results of the visits to the institutions reveal that the majority of the colleges and universities are not ready to safely welcome back workers and students. Most institutions do not have Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), not enough space for social distancing, proper sanitation and functioning health and safety committees. The national union will release a full report on its mission report which will also be shared with the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Once again, we reiterate our call for the department not to cut corners as this will lead to loss of lives and more disruption to the academic calendar. The coronavirus disrupted the 2020 academic year which led to the majority of students from poor background being left behind as there was no provision of enough data and gadgets by the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which is still failing to provide gadgets in 2021.

The Department of Higher Educations and Training working with Higher Health, Department of Health, National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) must expedite the screening, testing and tracing of students and workers in all campuses. More attention must be immediately paid to these institutions as they have a potential to become super spreaders.

As the country is currently anticipating third wave, the department must therefore ensure the following:

·      Sufficient quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for both workers and students

·      Screening and testing facilities

·      Social distancing

·      Cleaning of class rooms after the end of every class

·      An awareness campaign to continuously teach students about the dangers of COVID-19 and how to keep safe

Furthermore, we also call on Higher Health to increase its visibility in all campuses, particularly the historically disadvantaged institutions that do not have a lot of resources. Higher Health must increase its training capacity to staff and students, particularly in TVET and CET colleges including increasing the number of mobile clinics. We also urge the institutions to engage the Department of Health to expedite the rolling out of vaccines in the sector before the situation becomes even direr.

The national union will continue to fight for the establishment of health and safety committees in all workplaces. These committees must be inclusive of representatives from trade unions and must ensure that workplaces comply fully with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act. In this regard, we call on the Department of Employment and Labour to punish employers who refuse to form these committees as consequence management.

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: