COSATU – The Confederation of South African Trade Unions – has held a Central Executive Committee workshop to discuss a number of pertinent issues for the federation to respond to, and one such issue was the COVID-19 virus and the impact that it will have on workers in general.
Workers in the health sector and the various ports of entry are fearful for their health and safety at work, and remain uncertain of whether current occupational health and safety legislation covers the COVID-19 virus and what their labour rights are if they were to contract the virus.
The COVID-19 virus presents a number of challenges for workers particularly in the private sector who, unlike public sector employees, are subjected to strict principles of no work/ no pay.
Fearing financial hardship, workers might not easily cooperate with the prospect of forgoing wages to receive medical attention, which may exacerbate the spread of the virus.
The Federation recognises that awareness remains our best strategy in the fight against the virus: as such COSATU will develop a programme that will focus on the education of our members through training programmes for shop stewards and social media campaigns.
COSATU urges all affiliates to engage shop stewards through social media platforms, branch meetings and workplace blitzes to enhance the awareness among members.
The Department of Health has an obligation to the citizens to enhance education on the virus in all eleven official languages, and to provide sanitisers for the poorest communities, who till today lack proper access to water and sanitation.
Educators must also be prioritised in the awareness campaign by the Department so that teachers can include the coronavirus education and prevention in schools.
The COVID-19 virus will have an impact on us all. As a result COSATU has called for a NEDLAC (government labour council) meeting at the level of the executive committee to discuss the role each constituency in NEDLAC has to play in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The meeting must resolve on a clear programme of action to ensure workers and communities remain healthy and steps are taken to prop our ailing economy in the face of recession and the outbreak of coronavirus.
The National Treasury needs to analyse the economic impact that the COVID-19 virus will have on our economy, so that social partners can debate the necessary intervention to be taken to mitigate its effects.
The meeting must also engage the Unemployment Insurance Fund to see how best to provide safety nets to workers who must undergo quarantine and are unable to work for up to 14 days.
At a federation level, COSATU will convene an urgent Health Committee meeting to develop a programme for union leadership and structures to safeguard workers from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Meanwhile, in Mbombela, aggrieved Ehlanzeni District employees have given management a seven-day ultimatum on irregularities. A memorandum with a list of grievances was handed over (yesterday) to the Municipal Manager.
Ehlanzeni District Municipality employees went on a peaceful strike through their unions, the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) on Monday.
They handed over a memorandum to the Municipal Manager with a list of grievances which included the following:
Employees performing the same duties but being remunerated differently,
Absorption of temporary employees
Implementation of the Collective Agreement on the adjustment of travelling and subsistence allowance
Equal treatment of employees by Heads of Departments/General Managers
Stopping of privatising of the Disaster Management Centre hall and other EDM facilities
Safety when public gatherings takes place.
Management has been given seven working days to respond to the issues raised. In a media release, it states that employees have further resorted to (and) continued with picketing/demanding to hand over the same petition to the Executive Mayor on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, she was not available.
‘As a municipality, we are calling for calm from the side of the employees and further plead for understanding to stakeholders and the public in general during this unrest.
‘We strongly commit to work towards resolving the concerns raised by our employees at all costs. It must however be noted that such will never be realised outside a structured constructive engagement,’ reads the statement.
• ‘Workers should be represented on the boards, it should be Eskom, Transnet and so on,’ Matthew Parks (COSATU’s Deputy-Co-ordinator) told Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises.
After proposing debt relief for Eskom through pension fund savings, and concluding that South African Airways was possibly beyond saving, COSATU has turned its attention to Transnet, and Parks tabled a list of interventions it was proposing to strengthen the freight rail entity.
These included, as with Eskom, a call to rightsize bloated management structures and contain compensation for senior managers.
Parks suggested that the R160 billion reduction to the public sector wage bill proposed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in the national budget last month be spread across state-owned enterprises to lessen the blow to workers.
COSATU has called the minister’s plan a declaration of war on workers, and said it was battle-ready to resist it. Parks questioned why Mboweni did not target the upper echelons, of parastatals though ministers regularly mentioned that their numbers created a drain on the companies’ finances.
‘Government has got to have the political courage to slash the management levels. The same managers who broke state-owned enterprises are getting bonuses,’ he said.
‘We are not sure why the stakeholder is scared to exercise its power. There should be a cap on what managers can earn.’
COSATU also blasted government for not acting strongly against those who helped to loot state-owned enterprises in the state capture scandal.
‘The fifth parliament failed to hold government to account while industrial scale looting was happening.’
COSATU’s proposal on Transnet include creating dedicated police units to safeguard the rail system and to investigate cable theft, an infrastructure renewal programme that will include building high speed rail networks between Gauteng, Cape Town, Durban and Limpopo and plans to prioritise investments in freight and commuter rail and ports.
‘Investments should begin to rebuild local train building capacity, and in particular electric trains.