A nurse at Tygerberg Hospital’s coronavirus isolation unit is seen wearing protective clothing. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)
A nurse at Tygerberg Hospital’s coronavirus isolation unit is seen wearing protective clothing. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

Coronavirus In SA: Unions in war of words with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize

By Loyiso Sidimba Time of article published Apr 4, 2020

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A war of words has erupted between Cosatu, its biggest affiliate, Nehawu, and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize as the battle over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for Covid-19 healthcare workers heats up.

On Friday, Nehawu (National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union) launched a Labour Court bid to force Mkhize, his employment and labour counterpart Thulas Nxesi, and the nine provincial health MECs to comply with Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) during the Covid-19 state of disaster.

Cosatu and Nehawu have described Mkhize’s statement that he had engaged the federation and its unions over the lack of PPE for workers at the coalface of the government’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic as “misleading”.

”We want to inform our members, workers and the general public that [this] is far from the truth. The minister did not engage Cosatu or its affiliate Nehawu on the matter of PPE,” the country’s biggest trade union federation and its affiliate said on Saturday.

Nehawu has been trying to meet Mkhize since the pandemic was declared a national state of disaster by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month.

On Monday, the union wrote a letter to Mkhize demanding that he exercises his powers in terms of the OHSA to prohibit the performance of those duties that endanger and/or risk the health and safety of its members with immediate effect and until there has been full compliance with the act and the employment and labour department regulations and guidelines on Covid-19.

Cosatu and Nehawu have called on Mkhize to stop gambling with workers' lives and that his peddling of lame propaganda in the middle of a crisis is highly irresponsible.

Both Cosatu and Nehawu said they were still willing to discuss ways of protecting these workers and breadwinners from this killer virus but the safety of workers was non-negotiable.

According to Nehawu, it was disappointing and disheartening that it had to resort to approaching the court to compel the government to protect its members and workers who are at the forefront of testing, treating and quarantining those infected with the coronavirus.

The matter has been for Tuesday at the Labour Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

On Friday, deputy health minister Joe Phaahla promised that the much-needed PPE would be delivered over this weekend and that by early next week there will be an adequate supply.

He added that he was confident that the issues raised by Nehawu and another Cosatu affiliate, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA, will be addressed.

Political Bureau

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