TWO SOUTH African Free State nurses were shot with rubber bullets by police last Tuesday in Welkom, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers (NEWAHU) trade union is claiming.
The police, however, denied receiving such reports and alleged they know nothing about it.
Police shot the two nurses from the Bongani Regional Hospital in Welkom during a scuffle, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) has insisted. The turmoil erupted when health service providers were renegotiating an arrangement to have the hospital arrange transport for them during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The nurses, according to NEHAWU’s regional secretary Khauhelo Mnqibisa, were in a meeting with their CEO when police stepped in.
‘It was not a strike. When lockdown started, the employer agreed to provide transport for our members to come to work,’ Mnqibisa insisted. ‘But yesterday (Monday) things changed.
‘We learnt this arrangement was changed. They were compelled to travel on their own from last night.
‘It appeared the transport arrangement was initially made with an acting CEO, but when the actual CEO came back, it was cancelled.
‘The challenge is that public transport was not able to carry all of them. This morning they gathered and wanted to meet the CEO. The police came and there was havoc.
‘Two members were injured as a result. They were shot with rubber bullets. After the incident, we had a meeting with management and the employer will avail the transport. We can’t tell how the police got involved,’ Mnqibisa said.
Colonel Thandi Mbambo, Free State police spokesperson, said they had not received reports of injuries. ‘On March 31 about 6.35am, a protest by employees of Bongani Hospital took place at the entrance of the hospital.
‘Police contained the incident by dispersing the protesters with stun grenades and rubber bullets. The disgruntled employees were complaining about transport problems. A case of public violence was opened for further investigation. No arrest and no injuries have been reported so far,’ Mbambo said.
NEHAWU has by now written to the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, to demand that the Department of Health complies with the Occupational Health and Safety Act; 1993 (as amended) during the Covid-19 disaster.
‘In the wake of this public health emergency,’ said the union, ‘NEHAWU amongst others expected that government would use the Disaster Management Act in order to enable the following:
- An integrated and coordinated disaster management measures that focuses on preventing or reducing the risk, mitigate the severity of the disaster, undertake emergency preparedness, rapid and effective responses.
- Establish national, provincial and district disaster management centres.
- And mobilise disaster management volunteers.
‘After the council meeting of the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) which was convened on the 17th March 2020, NEHAWU has been proactively requesting from the employer access to government’s emergency preparedness plan geared at preventing or reducing the risk, including measures to mitigate any danger related to our members’ performance of their duties.
‘The national union has raised sharply the glaring weaknesses and inadequacies of the Guidelines on the Management of the coronavirus (Covid-19) in the Public Service, as presented to us by the employer at the very same council meeting.
‘In subsequent meetings (including the National Nerve Centre) we have further submitted our own proposals.
‘NEHAWU is shocked and highly disappointed that its members and workers who include doctors, nurses, cleaners, ambulance and morgue workers are to date still highly exposed to occupational risk in which they are forced to work without the necessary Personal Protective Equipment as per clause 4.4 of the Workplace Preparedness: Covid-19 Guidelines of the Department of Employment & Labour at different workplaces across the country.
‘The employer’s conduct of exposing our members to occupational risk to their health and lives is a direct violation of Section 8 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act; 1993 (OHSA), as well as the Guidelines and Regulations promulgated under the Disaster Management Act; 2002. In this regard, NEHAWU demands the following:
- The Minister must exercise his powers in terms of the OHSA to prohibit the performance of those duties that endangers and/or risk the health and safety of NEHAWU member with immediate effect, up to until there has been full compliance with the Act, and, the Department of Labour Regulations and Guidelines on Covid-19.
- Our members must be provided with Personal Protective Equipment of the specifications stated in the guidelines with immediate effect.
- The Minister must immediately attend to the areas of concerns and considerations communicated to him by the national union on the 29th March 2020.
‘NEHAWU demands compliance from the department in relation to the above demands or an undertaking that such will be complied with by no later than 1st April 2020, failing which, we shall approach the High Court on an urgent basis seeking an interdict on behalf of our members against their unlawful and reckless exposure to occupational risk to their health and safety by the employer who is the custodian of the law.
‘The government has a role to play in protecting our members while we fight this virus as a country. While our members are on the front line of fighting the virus it is imperative that they are given all the necessary PPEs and sanitisers.
‘The safety of our members is a non-debatable matter and we will fight until the bitter end to ensure that they are protected at all material times.
‘Our members and workers in general have a right to life as prescribed in section 11 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and in this regard, we are consulting our lawyers as part of preparing for a legal fight in court against this conduct by government as led by the Minister of Health in the form of a urgent application.’
Issued by Khaya Xaba, NEHAWU Secretariat, 30th March 2020.
- In a joint statement on March 31st, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the South African Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) have blasted the government over its handling of the crisis in State-owned regional airline SA Express. Their response was to a statement on the airline issued by the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) on March 29th.
‘SA Express is in a business rescue process. Its Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) have made a court application for it to be liquidated. In its press release, the DPE admitted that the government could provide no further financial support for the airline.
‘We must not mince our words – the destruction of SA Express is because the government as the shareholder is not committed to saving our State Owned Entities (SOEs), especially those in aviation,’ the two unions charged in their joint statement.
‘It seems what we have been warning about in relation to SOE’s is coming to fruition. We always suspected that eventually the rampant looting and corruption, which the government as the shareholder consistently turned a blind eye to for many years, would be the death knell of our SOEs, and this has turned out to be true in the case of SA Express, and it seems very likely that SAA and Eskom will also follow suit.’
The unions noted that the BRPs and DPE were blaming each other for the likely liquidation of SA Express. They reported that the BRPs had accused to DPE of not cooperating with them and with failing to give confidence to the airline’s creditors.
The unions quoted the DPE’s charge that the BRPs had failed to develop a credible business case for SA Express. ‘Whilst the two sides bickered the eventual stalemate between the two parties worsened the situation and now SA Express is on the verge of liquidation,’ asserted Numsa and Sacca.
‘The situation is compounded by the fact that most of our members have not received their salaries for the month of March, and they were unable to prepare for the anti-Covid-19 lockdown,’ they highlighted.
‘They are suffering as a result of the mismanagement of this State Owned Entity … Workers and their families’ will suffer the most during this lockdown simply because government, the board and the executives failed in their duties as leaders. All are equally responsible for the destruction of this airline and they do not have the luxury of absolving themselves from the mess they created.’
The unions further attacked the DPE for only now approaching the Unemployment Insurance Fund regarding the plight of the airline’s staff. This had been proposed by the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration back in December during the Section 189 (of the the Labour Relations Act) retrenchments process for SA Express.
‘It does seem that the coronavirus is helping some factions within the state to drive their agenda for the wholesale destruction of our SOE’s through liquidation,’ accused both Numsa and Sacca.
‘The crisis at SA Express could have been avoided if DPE and Treasury had genuinely supported SOE’s which is their mandate, but what we have seen, with regards to SAA, and SA Express and even Eskom is that government sabotages efforts to turn them around, because they want to justify the entrance of the private sector in these entities … The destruction of these entities is part of the legacy of the ANC-led government and they must own it.’