‘Workers Should Down Tools If They Feel Unsafe’ – Cosatu

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Healthcare workers in Johannesburg last Friday held a protest demanding better working conditions, including adequate PPE

WORKERS should be allowed to down tools if their employers fail to provide them with masks and other protective gear in line with the national lockdown level 4 regulations aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus in the workplace says South African labour federation Cosatu.

The Confederation of South African Trades Unions (Cosatu) made the call yesterday following an announcement by minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi that companies which do not comply with the Covid-19 safety measures could face sanction and possible closure.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said: ‘Workers should be empowered to down tools if they feel unsafe and employers should face punitive measures for not complying.’
He said Cosatu was already raising this suggestion on many platforms. ‘It’s already there in the Mine Health and Safety Act 29 of 1996 as amended and the Occupational Health Safety Act, but we want it to be included in these ministerial directions in the context of the lockdown to make sure that workers are properly covered,’ he said.
‘The department is not well resourced and this is why workers should have a right to refuse to work. There are not enough inspectors to monitor all workplaces.’
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi laughed off Nxesi’s threat, saying it would have been a good move ‘only if he would actually do it’.
Vavi said the department didn’t have the capacity as it only has about 170 occupational health and safety inspectors on the ground while there are 1.8-million registered employers in South Africa.
‘We support that (move to shut down companies) only if he (Nxesi) is going to do it … the first issue that’s being thrown into our face by this Covid-19 crisis is that we have a very weak department that has no capacity,’ Vavi said.
The department needs to be assisted to be able to know what’s happening in workplaces as it is unable to do that by itself he added.
It has encouraged workers to be vigilant in workplaces and report employers who do not adhere to health and safety measures.
However, some of the new regulations state that all companies and industries, both private and public, must designate a Covid-19 compliance officer who will ‘oversee the implementation of the plan referred to in sub-regulation and adherence to the standards of hygiene and health protocols relating to Covid-19 at workplace’.
The department’s chief inspector for occupational health and safety, Tibor Szana, said they would be appointing 500 more inspectors to boost the 170 inspectors nationwide. He said the aim is not to go out to close companies but to ensure that best practices in avoiding the spread of Covid-19 are complied with.
Szana said last Thursday’s inspection report showed that the majority of employers were not complying with the lockdown regulations.
Business Unity SA’s CEO Cas Coovadia said the private sector has played, and continues to play, a very proactive and positive role in working with the government and unions to manage the impact of Covid-19.
‘We are thus concerned about the approach of the Department of Labour, which appears to be Draconian. We are all learning on a day-to-day basis how to address this pandemic and we will make mistakes or have shortfalls, including employers and employees.
‘The government should thus adopt an approach of identifying issues, warning businesses to redress and only acting against businesses that deliberately and consistently violate regulations,’ he said.
Meanwhile, nursing union the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) says it is angered by the second Covid-19-related death to hit the fraternity in the province.
Tygerberg Hospital nurse Ntombizakithi Ngidi’s death follows that of 62-year-old Petronella ‘Aunty Nellie’ Benjamin, who was laid to rest last week. Benjamin died one day before her retirement date.
Denosa spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo said it is angry that nurses are contracting and now dying of the virus.
‘It’s extremely angering to have nurses who contract and die from the Covid-19 after we as an organisation have been bringing to the attention of the Department of Health the urgent need to ensure maximum protection of nurses and health workers.
‘The death of the two nurses highlights two significant areas that employers must amend in their management style towards staff in the face of this pandemic.’
He said managers must be more reasonable and understand the real risks that nurses face.
‘The Western Cape has become the epicentre of Covid-19 in South Africa and, as such, healthcare facilities need to be protected and fumigated sufficiently.
‘We get reports of nurses who, when they present with symptoms and have to self-isolate, are bizarrely made to do so from their annual leave days and from special leave. This is double victimisation and it is not acceptable – whoever is doing it must stop it.
‘The nurses must also not be victimised further by employers who want proof that healthcare workers have been infected in the workplace, as we have been told that some are doing.’
Premier Alan Winde has asked people to keep healthcare workers in their thoughts.
‘As we mark International Nurses Day, we will honour these two women for their commitment and their care. All of our healthcare workers are heroes on the front lines, and we thank them for their selflessness and their commitment …
‘Each and every death should be a stark reminder of the role we all have to play in flattening this curve so that we can protect our health-care workers, and all of our vulnerable, elderly or sick residents.’

  • Teachers’ union Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU) officially declared that principals and other members of school management teams (SMTs) would not be reporting for duty yesterday.

This is what was agreed on during a virtual meeting between teacher unions and the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, on Saturday, according to Chris Klopper, SAOU CEO.
In a news flash to members on Saturday afternoon, SAOU said that SMTs would now be expected to return to school on May 18, and teachers on May 25. The previous proposed date for the return of the SMTs was yesterday (May 11) and May 18 for teachers. Grade 12 and 7 pupils were expected to return on June 1st.
Klopper said that Motshekga had intimated that the department and the nine provincial education departments required another week to be able to provide Covid-19 essentials.
He said that his union had also requested more feedback on, among other things:

  • A special focused catch-up plan for grade 12s in the event that June 1st is not feasible for the whole system;
  • A progress report on curriculum trimming for all grades and subjects;
  • The position of staff members who were over 60 years of age as well as those teachers with underlying medical problems;
  • Staff members who were pregnant;
  • Pupils and teachers from neighbouring countries;
  • School hostels; and …
  • What to do with young children of working parents when they return to work.

Meanwhile, at the eleventh hour, the Gauteng education department informed SMTs not to report for duty yesterday.
In a circular dated Saturday, May 9th, the department’s head, Edward Mosuwe, said that principals or their deputies would be required to be available from Wednesday to receive the procured personal protective equipment (PPEs) and the programme for the disinfection of schools.
‘A delivery schedule of the PPEs will be communicated with principals of schools in due course. It is important to note that schools will not reopen unless the basic essentials agreed to are in place.’
Mosuwe said that other members of the SMTs as well as teachers would be advised of the date when they are expected to return, and that the department is working towards ensuring that all schools are ready to open at the same time.
‘However, due to varying scope and degree of deep cleaning and disinfection required by the different schools, some schools will not be ready for resumption of schooling by the agreed date.
‘As such, these schools will open as and when readiness has been verified and affected schools and parents will be informed accordingly.’
He said that the disinfection of all schools will commence on May 18 and will be completed before June 1st.
The teacher unions were due to have another follow-up meeting with Motshekga yesterday for a further progress report.