COSATU urges the Department of Employment and Labour to launch a health and safety crackdown across high risk sectors

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is deeply alarmed by the recent spate of horrific incidents at several workplaces that have cost the lives of dozens of workers.  These include 34 construction workers who died in George, the 5 construction workers at eNgcobo, 4 construction workers in Ballito and 11 fishermen missing and presumed drowned off the coast of Hout Bay.

The Federation offers its deepest sympathies to the families of these workers who perished for no reason.  We wish a speedy recovery to the survivors of these tragedies.

Whilst South Africa has very clear and progressive health and safety laws and building codes, the recent disasters workers are being exposed to and dying in alarming numbers, points to a system that is not working.  It is clear that employers are wantonly breaking every single labour, health and safety, and building law.  And are getting away with murder.

Whilst investigations into the exact causes of these accidents must still be finalised, it is clear that these employers recklessly exposed workers to unsafe conditions.  COSATU demands the investigation into these incidents be expedited and time frames be given in which the preliminary reports must be shared with the public. 

The fact that the rescue teams had to call off the search at Ballito due to further multiple collapses of the embankment confirms the site was not a safe place to work at.  Inspections were not done prior to determine safety of the site or foresee and prevent potential landslides.  Tragically workers died as a direct result.  Workers continue to lose their lives at the hands of criminally negligent employers when safety measures are not put in place and adhered to as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

COSATU will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Employment and Labour, Mr. Thulas Nxesi, to ensure a comprehensive set of interventions are actioned and that workers are protected.  Key interventions urgently needed include:

  • Ensuring the families of the deceased are able to bury their loved ones with the dignity they deserve, including retrieving bodies still trapped.
  • Releasing the funds the affected workers and their families were entitled to had their employers registered and paid their dues as legally obliged to the Compensation Fund for Occupational Injuries and Diseases.
  • The employer must ensure the families of the deceased receive the necessary compensation and that the surviving workers receive the necessary healthcare and compensation until such time that doctors are confident they can return to work. They must be assisted with the claim processes at the Compensation Fund.
  • Expediting the investigations into these tragic incidents and holding the guilty employers fully accountable, including their immediate arrests and prosecutions.
  • Embarking on a nation-wide joint workplace health and safety blitz between the Department of Employment and Labour and Organised Labour, targeting in particular high-risk sectors such as construction, fishing, chemical and other factories, mining, security, transport amongst others.
  • Doubling the number of Labour, Health and Safety Inspectors from the currently insufficient numbers.
  • Tabling at Parliament the long-awaited Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill and the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill to tighten gaps in the existing Acts.

These tragedies are yet another reminder that the lives of workers depend upon strengthening our labour laws, and in tightening their enforcement.  We will not entertain the reckless calls by obscure politicians desperate for attention, to collapse our labour laws and expose vulnerable workers to abuse and death. 

We cannot allow workers to continue to be abused by inhumane employers, have their lives put in serious danger and their families plunged into absolute poverty.  It is time such employers are sent to prison.  Workers deserve to have their fundamental constitutional rights respected at all times.  COSATU and its Affiliates will be intensifying their campaigns to defend the rights and lives of all workers.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator 
Cell: 082 785 0687