The Congress of South African Trade Unions is deeply troubled by the Department of Health’s inconsiderate attitude towards its employees who are at the forefront of fighting the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We find it absurd and outrageous that to date these brave public servants are still highly exposed to occupational risk because they are forced to work without the necessary Personal Protective Equipment.
This irresponsible and intolerable conduct by the Department of Health that is supposed to know better is a slap in the face to these frontline workers who have heeded the call to fight against the Covid-19 without questions asked. We urge the Department to take the issue of sufficient PPE for front line workers seriously as this protects them from contracting the Covid-19 virus. Health workers are already stretched and a loss of health workers due to negligence on the part of the department will impact negatively efforts to flatten the rate of infections.
The Federation fully supports its affiliated union NEHAWU in its decision to take the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize and the department to court to force them to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act; 1993 [as amended] during the COVID-19 disaster.
The safety of workers is non-negotiable, and this intolerable conduct by the employer is putting the workers' own lives and those of their families at risk. This negligent conduct is in 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.
We have seen the calamitous consequences of this inattentive and indifferent attitude by government departments to occupational health and safety in the past. We cannot afford to be complacent.
This is equivalent to sending soldiers to a gunfight with only knives. These workers are now being unfairly forced to choose between their jobs and their lives.
South Africa will not win this war against the Covid-19 virus if our frontline workers are poorly outfitted. The federation will not allow these workers and breadwinners to be sent to their early graves needlessly. We encourage all of our unions to ensure that employers comply with the necessary laws and regulations during this 21-day lockdown.
Issued by COSATU