Samwu says municipalities not ready for level 3 restrictions
Johannesburg – Municipalities are not ready to return to work during level 3 of the lockdown, which is set to commence on June 1.
That is the message of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu), who said although they appreciated and fully supported government's efforts of balancing the economy and public health government’s decision to lower lockdown restrictions and move the country to level 3, they had concerns on the move.
The union said municipalities were never ready for lockdown levels 5 and 4 and there was therefore no reason to believe they would be ready for a more relaxed level 3 which included the return of all workers.
"Our members have been reporting to us the failure by municipalities to provide them with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for them to be able to fully and safely execute their duties.
"Other municipalities have gone to an extent of requesting workers to buy their own PPEs, essentially subsidising the operations of the employer," said Samwu general secretary Koena Ramotlou.
He said they were aware of some municipalities that had told workers they did not have the funds to procure PPEs for workers as these had not been budgeted for, and they had not received any financial support from national government for the procurement of PPEs.
Ramotlou added these municipalities had instead resorted to encourage workers to practise physical distancing, something that was impossible given the fact some of the tasks required of the workers required teamwork in close proximity.
"We do not need to remind municipalities that according to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) and in line with the regulations by the Department of Labour and Employment, the health and safety of employees remain the responsibility of the employer, including municipalities.
"The failure by municipalities to provide workers with PPE has resulted in almost 200 infections throughout the country among municipal workers and sadly two workers have lost the battle against the virus," Ramotlou said.
He added that failure by municipalities to guarantee the health and safety of workers was essentially tantamount to municipalities sending workers to slaughterhouses.
Ramotlou also said this situation had further been made worse by the failure of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) to intervene and ensure the compliance of Covid-19 regulations.
"The department, as the custodian of the country’s municipalities, was supposed to be the one ensuring that municipalities comply with the regulations set up by the department.
"Cogta has not only failed municipalities, the department has also failed municipal workers and their families and as such should be held responsible for the infections in the workplaces and deaths already witnessed," said Ramotlou.
He said that by announcing lockdown regulations for level 3, Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma highlighted the fact that risk of infections increasing at a higher rate was now greater, and with this announcement more municipal workers were now at a greater risk of contracting the virus in the workplace, especially with the continued failure by municipalities to guarantee the health and safety of workers.
"We are therefore convinced that municipalities are not prepared for level 3, particularly those that have been identified as hotspots.
"It would therefore be irresponsible of municipalities to recall municipal workers to the workplace when workers' health and safety cannot be guaranteed. In the interest of public health and that of our members, we therefore call on municipal workers to refuse to work when their health and safety cannot be guaranteed," said Ramatlou.