Union calls on universities not to abuse workers by calling them back to unsafe campuses

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Published Jan 20, 2021


Cape Town - Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande is expected to receive an updated report of how many staff members and students got infected by and died from Covid-19.

However, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said they had noted a proposal from Nzimande's department that universities must develop their own safety plans with the return of workers.

Nehawu general secretary, Zola Saphetha said it was concerning because it might open a window for abuse of workers by various uncaring institutions who potentially would recall more than 50% of workers back to unsafe campuses.

This comes after Nzimande’s address on Monday, that Covid-19 positive cases reported across universities were 3 088 (1 499 staff and 1 588 students) as at November last year, with 58 deaths (48 staff and 10 students).

“We have already heard the very sad news that 48 staff members and 10 students had passed on last year of Covid-19. We know that infections will have risen over the festive season,” said Nzimande.

Saphetha said the union was hoping the department would continue to monitor and approve all plans as submitted by various institutions based on the Covid-19 regulations.

“The national union reiterates its call for the department to ensure that all workplaces must have established functioning health and safety committees with clear plans to protect the lives of workers and our members in particular,” he said.

He said those committees must be inclusive of representatives from trade unions and must ensure that workplaces comply fully with the occupational health and safety (Act).

“All institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to prepare for the reopening and must ensure that workers and students are supplied with adequate personal protective equipment, sanitisers and there is space for social distancing.”

UCT spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said to comply with the adjusted lockdown Level 3, the university has in place all the necessary procedures and protocols.

Shabalala said UCT would continue to operate as a low-density campus that relies on physical distance learning in the first semester of 2021, which would start on March 15.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology spokesperson Lauren Kansley said as the institution also remained on strict lockdown Level 3 mode, students (including prospective first-year students and their guardians) are urged not to travel to campuses for face-to-face assistance from staff.

Cape Argus