Since the declaration of the National State of Disaster in March 2020, the national union has been focusing on the immediate concerns regarding the health and safety of our members who are in the national fight against COVID-19.
Despite the constraints imposed by lockdown measures, the union managed to keep in touch with members in the frontlines and to place their demands on the national agenda. These demands include adequate provision of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), active involvement of workers to ensure their safety through Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Committees at workplaces, psychosocial support, transport, solidarity incentive for the patriotic contribution made by frontline workers, etc.
As a result, the national union chose not to fold arms watch its members dying and subjected to hazardous environments which has claimed the lives of many frontline workers while on the other hand observing government undermining the collective bargaining agreement by reneging from Resolution 1 of 2018.
Indeed, the union is reminded by these incidents aimed at reversing the hard-won-gains of workers - that history has taught us that at times the employers reacts better to workers when they withdraw their labour power.
It is against this background that the union in its Special National Executive Committee held on the 25th July 2020 adopted a national programme of action which was unveiled to the public on the 28th July 2020. At the centre of its program is this political and socio economic action against government’s neoliberal policies that places austerity measures over developmental and responsive policies to the plight of the working class and the poor.
It is in this context that our action must be understood that the global crisis of capitalism has angered the working people and the working class in general on government’s neo-liberal macro-economic policies that structurally weakened the capacity of the state in delivering a better life to the poorest of the poor, quality healthcare services and the protection of worker’s lives.
As a result, workers are extremely angry at the poor pace of transformation and government’s inability to improve the lives of public servants including freezing their wage increase by reneging to the implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018 while watching the elite benefiting from the proceeds of corruption through PPE tenders and supply of other COVID-19 essentials.
The union’s view is that this moment must be used to escalate the fight for radical policy choices favourable to the working class and working people in particular in order to improve their living conditions for quality life and improved healthcare system for all South Africans by laying fertile grounds for the full implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI).
Guided by phases of our national programme of action, our mobilisation is in full swing and has seen the national and provincial leadership criss-crossing the country listening to members raising challenges and solutions thereof.
Meetings have been held virtually with members in the public and private healthcare, SARS, SASSA, private and public laboratories, Emergency Medical Services [EMS], Community Healthcare workers, Special Investigative Unit [SIU], Labour Inspectors in the Department of Employment and, higher education sector [Universities, Technical Vocational Education and Training [TVET] Colleges and Community Education and Training Colleges [CET Colleges], Social Development including national departments and private social development.
All workers are under siege by intransigent and reckless employers which has led to perpetual rising numbers of infections with the novel coronavirus. The outcomes of our fact-finding report mission and the meetings convened have painted a bleak picture in relation to the health and safety of workers especially during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Our members and workers are also faced by the non-payment of salary increases, bonuses and risk allowance as public servants have not been paid their salary increase which was due on the 1st April 2020 as Resolution 1 of 2018. We are convinced more than ever before that the excuses made by government are not genuine because we aware that there is money to pay public servants as we have seen money being siphoned through corruption, irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure, including immaterial irregularities and finding its way into the pockets of looters and greedy politicians.
At this point, the national union is satisfied with the level of preparedness and is forging ahead with its action after several meetings with employers failed to yield the desired results. On the 10th August 2020 the leadership of the union met with the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, to discuss the outstanding issues arising from our bilateral settlement agreement signed in February 2017 and new challenges brought about COVID-19 including issues related to bargaining and safety of workers in SASSA. However, the Minister was not ready to answer our questions nor respond to our demands instead she requested a ten days period to better prepare her responses which ends today hence the meeting at 14h00 with her this afternoon.
We also had a meeting with the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, on the 13th August 2020 who was accompanied by the Director-General, Deputy Director Generals, MECs and Provincial Head of Departments to give the department an opportunity to respond to our fact-finding mission report with a view to fix the shortcomings discovered in the report.
Unfortunately, there were contradictions on accuracies of reports between us and the department which has led into the collapse of the meeting without proper engagements, however, the meeting agreed on a three pronged-approach that the NEHAWU General Secretary and Director General must lead respective teams to resolve the substantive issues raised while the Minister will be taking the issue of risk allowance or motivational incentives for frontline workers for consideration and MECs, HoDs of departments with provincial leadership of the union must go back to their respective provinces to do verification of the establishment and functioning of health and safety committees at workplaces as per the prescript of the Occupational Health and Safety and jointly develop concrete plans to establish such committees where they not existing and report back to the meeting to be convened in two weeks’ time for extensive and robust discussions for solutions.
On the 14th August 2020, the leadership of NEHAWU met with the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Mr Senzo Mchunu to discuss the protection of public servants against the coronavirus, unfortunately, nothing came out of this meeting.
It is imperative to mention that the union has secured a commitment with Liquor Industry to donate more PPEs to frontline workers and we immediately invited the Department of Health to join in the finalisation of the distributions plan of these PPEs. This donation is an addition to the contribution made already by the union during NOBs visits on the fact finding mission period which were 8686 KN95 masks, 1210 Visors (face shield), 2000 three ply surgical masks and 12 000 Ziloguard immune boosters to frontline workers.
The national union has already met its strategic partners, progressive organisations and other organisations who cares about the lives of workers such as its federation, [COSATU NOBs], COSATU health unions and planning to meet even those outside the fold COSATU, has met SACP officials - our vanguard party, reliable allies SASCO and YCLSA who have all pledged support for our national programme of action and vowed to mobilise their members behind the programme. We are also intending to meet with the South African Council of Churches and other civil society and community based organisations including the Portfolio Committee of Health as we have already corresponded and shared our fact finding mission report through its Chairperson, Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
Currently, the national union is at an advanced stage of putting safety measures in place to ensure the adherence to safety protocols during the implementation of the national programme of action.
The national union will use the strike at the National Health Laboratories Service [NHLS] as a launching pad for the implementation of its national programme of action. Our members and workers at NHLS will join the picket lines starting from the 21st August 2020 after the employer refused to implement the outcomes of a settlement agreement from last year, August.
Activities of national programme of action
Our major activities begins with the “Tsaya le tsatsi la leave” action which will see workers flock to their employers offices on the 24th August 2020 to apply for a leave day for the 25th August 2020.
The “Tsaya le tsatsi la leave” will be followed by lunch hour pickets which will take place in all workplaces from the 24th until the 27th August 2020 and on the 28th August 2020 will be “Siyahlala Day of Action” whereby all workers across all sectors we organise shall be observing lockdown as they are no longer feeling safe at their workplaces by staying at home and not going to work. This will be followed by a work to rule campaign by all members across all sectors on the 31st August 2020.
As part of showing recognition to the good work and sacrifice demonstrated by frontline workers in saving the lives of South Africans at the expense of their own, the national union will encourage all motorist to hoot in support of the frontline workers both on the 1st and 2nd September 2020 while the union will be having motorcades across the country going workplace to workplace saluting and thanking all frontline workers for their contribution done so far.
On the 3rd September 2020, it will be the National Day of Action in a form of demonstrations across provinces where memorandums shall be handed-over to the President of the country, National Speaker of the National Assembly and all Premiers in provinces.
Failure to receive favourable responses to our demands, on the 10th September 2020 we will completely withdraw our labour, unfortunately, it will be at the peak of this virus.
At this point, the national union wishes to inform its members, workers in general and the public at large that all preparations for these activities are at the advance stage and affirm our readiness to go ahead as nothing can deter us now.
The national union is more than convinced that this is the right moment to take a firm stand against the exploitation of our members and workers, austerity measures and the maximisation of profits at the expense of the blood and sweat of workers.
Lastly, we would also like to appeal to society at large to join our national programme of action as these issues also affects everyone in the country especially the working class and the poor.
Currently, the national union is at an advanced stage of putting safety measures in place to ensure the adherence to safety protocols during the implementation of the national programme of action. In this regard, we are finalising the procurement of masks, and sanitizers for our members and workers who will be joining the different actions across the country. Physical distancing and the regulation on the gathering of 50 people will be adhered to for the safety of our members and workers.
With each and every day that passes it becomes vividly clear that employers do not care about our members and workers. If workers are serious about preserving their lives and get what is due to them in terms of remuneration they have to fight until the bitter end. Luckily, they have a red, revolutionary union that is preoccupied with ending all forms of exploitation, lack of transformation and slave wages. For us as NEHAWU, this is a battle we are not prepared to lose as it affects the lives of our members and workers. NEHAWU will not tire nor rest until workers are free from the bondage of exploitation and unsafe working conditions.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat