INDUSTRIALL Global union affiliates in South Africa are supporting the current probe by the country’s Special Investigating Unit into fraudulent activities in the awarding of tenders to supply the government with personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for the Covid-19 pandemic.
The tenders being investigated are worth over five billion rand (US$299 million) and were awarded for cloth masks, surgical masks, face shields, medical gowns, aprons, scrubs, overalls, gloves, sanitisers, and other products.
Had the tenders gone to reputable industries in the chemicals, plastics, and textile, garments, shoe, and leather sectors, thousands of workers would have benefited.
Instead the tenders were given to politically connected individuals and bogus companies with no proven experience in the supply chain for PPE. These suppliers often inflated prices and imported poor quality products when better locally manufactured products could have been sourced at half the price. The tender process also flouted local content laws.
To make information available on local manufacturers for masks and other products, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) and Brand SA set up a portal where factories and small industries could be contacted. Information is also available on the factories that can produce PPE, but these were ignored by government officials who were not transparent on the awarding of the tenders.
In a report to the South African parliament on 5 August, SACTWU and the Congress of South African Trade Unions said: ‘It is a story of the betrayal of the safety of healthcare workers who are being placed at risk due to the supply of sub-standard products.
‘It is a shameful story of missed opportunities to buy and produce locally many products which are normally not needed in such large quantities by the state which is not doing everything possible to support factories and workers in a struggling economy.’
Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, said: ‘The past three months have seen an unprecedented rise of nationwide public anger against this government because of the massive revelations of corruption involving essential Covid-19 health supplies.’
Joseph Montisetse, National Union of Mineworkers president, added: ‘We must guard against corruption in all sectors of our government. It is unacceptable that others arrogantly find an opportunity to enrich themselves with millions of rands allocated to tackle the scourge of Covid-19.’
Paule France Ndessomin, the IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said: ‘It is deplorable that funds meant for the Covid-19 pandemic are stolen. These are funds meant to ease the suffering of workers, families, and communities. We agree with the unions that the government must act decisively to end this corruption.’
Meanwhile, about 50 community healthcare workers protested outside the Khayelitsha Day Hospital on Tuesday, demanding adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 danger pay.
National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW) is demanding that the community health workers be ‘absorbed on a level 2 salary scale’ as an interim solution.
NUPSAW spokesperson Kagiso Makoe said the community healthcare workers also want to be paid R2,000 for Covid-19 danger allowance.
‘The Department of Health must end the exploitation of Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) and start to recognise them as permanent employees of the department and the valuable work they perform,’ he said.
Makoe said the union welcomed the decision by the Gauteng Department of Health to permanently absorb all community healthcare workers on salary level 2, since 1 July 2020.
‘We are disappointed that other provinces are reluctant to recognise CHWS as public servants,’ he said.
Cynthia Tikwayo, chairperson of Western Cape CHWs, said they have been protesting for adequate PPE outside the hospital since March.
‘When we ask the department officials for a pay raise, they say we work for NGOs and therefore our payment is not their responsibility. When we demand salary increases from our health NGOs, they tell us to direct our demands to the department and say they hire and pay us according to the department’s instructions.’
Tikwayo said they want the department to value them the same way the communities they work in do.
‘Because of the good work we do, residents call us nurses and social workers. The minister doesn’t even step out of her office and attend to us when we protest,’ she said.
NUPSAW shop steward Bongiwe Chipeio said: ‘We hand over memos, meet the management and give them deadlines for dealing with our demands but nothing has come of it. We need proper PPE because we work in cramped bungalows and shipping containers where we risk infecting each other with Covid-19.’
- The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has accused private and government employers of forcing workers to come to work before they are cleared of Covid-19.
The union has held a national day of prayer in memory of frontline workers who died after contracting the virus.
The union says they want better screening of health care workers, access to personal protective equipment, and for government to honour the public sector agreement.
Since the start of the pandemic, 240 health workers have died from coronavirus-related complications.
Secretary-general of Nehawu Zola Saphetha said: ‘From our internal records, the deaths that Nehawu has accounted for is 983. We are verifying those who really died as a result of Covid-19.’
The union wants all workers who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 to undergo a full medical evaluation before they are allowed to return to work.
The union has threatened to withdraw its vote for the African National Congress (ANC) in next year’s elections – if government does not deliver on their demands.
Saphetha said, ‘We are yet to convene in a meeting of Cosatu where we are going to discuss who to vote for next year. We will make our point. We can’t put a government in place, who refuses to listen to us.’
- The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is deeply concerned about the prevalence of the Covid-19 infections in mining, energy and construction sectors where it organises.
The South African stats show that:
- The total number of cases: 613.017.
- The total number of deaths: 13,308.
- The total number of cases recovered: 520.381.
The following trends are noted in our organising sectors:
1. According to the Minerals Council of SA’s statistical data as at 28th August 2020 is as follows:
- Total number of Mines: 385.
- Total number of Employees: 443,952.
- Total screening: 348,083.
- Total tests: 45.591.
- Total positive cases: 13.826.
- Active cases:684.
2. The break down according to commodities:
- Platinum: 6.556 (active cases); 63 (deaths).
- Gold: 2,760 (active cases); 56 (deaths).
- Coal: 2,475 (active cases); 56 (deaths).
- Other: 2,035 (active cases); 10 (deaths).
3. The breakdown per Regions is as follows:
- North West: 5,393 (active cases); 51 (deaths).
- Mpumalanga: 2,641 (active cases); 21 (deaths).
- Limpopo: 2,257 (active cases); 18 (deaths).
- Gauteng: 1,520 (active cases); 30 (deaths).
- Free State: 1,187 (active cases); 22 (deaths).
- KZN: 146 (active cases); 0 (deaths).
- Western Cape: 10 (active cases); 0 (deaths).
- Eastern Cape: 0 (active cases); 0 (deaths).
4. From the figures above, As NUM we note the following.
- The pandemic is still in prevalence in the Mining sector.
- The prevalence of the pandemic is slowing down.
- The recovery rate of the pandemic has improved.
- North West, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and Free State are regions with high mining activities and as a result, these regions have high numbers.
5. Having noted the figures above, as NUM we would like the following to be considered and implemented.
- The mining sector must ensure that systems and programmes continue to be put in place to address the prevalence of the pandemic.
- The protocols from the government should continue to be adhered to, i.e.:
Washing of hands;
Wearing of masks.
- The regions with high cases must come up with campaigns to raise awareness to the workers in order to avoid complacency in the general workforce in the mining sector.
- The platinum, gold and coal sectors must continue to implement measures that will protect the workers
6. OVERALL HEALTH AND SAFETY MATTERS IN MINING.
The NUM is concerned that there is no change in lowering the fatalities in 2019 as compared to the 2020 same period. This is even though mines were closed for a period over a month in 2020. We further note that Fall of Ground, TMM and general causes continue to be the causes of these fatalities and injuries. Gold, platinum and coal are still competing for first place in the fatalities.
We urge mining houses to use the MHSC research outcomes and also learn from their peers on how best to address the causes of fatalities and injuries.
7. ENERGY SECTOR.
Eskom has reported the state of compliance across all its entire business divisions to be above 90%. Much as this looks good, we are saying we want sustainable compliance that is not less than 100%. The safety of public areas is a serious concern and we say to Eskom, public campaigns to raise awareness on the public safety regarding electricity must be sustained. Contractor management continues to be a key challenge is Eskom, and we say this area must be improved. Eskom must capacitate all its contractors.
We are concerned that the construction sector established what is called Construction Covid-19 Rapid Response Task Team without us as the NUM and organised labour in broader stakeholders. It is also disturbing that we do not have data from this sector on Covid-19 as NUM but employers and the Department of Labour know about the reported cases. We demand that the forum allow the representation of workers by the sectoral unions and get inputs from us as the affected party.
Companies carry a responsibility to provide salaries to workers during this pandemic, and where it is not possible to pay in full, they continue to carry the responsibility to follow the National Policies to ensure that workers are not made to suffer the impact of the pandemic at the workplaces. We further call on employers to refrain from using the pandemic to dismiss and retrench our members.
We call on companies to support workers and make the claim process for compensation of any work-related injury or disease is undertaken and the process is easy for the workers.