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Nehawu: Meet all our demands or we’ll withdraw our labour completely

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Aug 22, 2020

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The message by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) to government is simple: meet all our demands or we’ll withdraw our labour completely.

This was the overriding stance of the union yesterday as it forges ahead with plans for a national strike on September 3.

The country’s largest union is striking over the government’s refusal to increase public servants’ salaries and a failure to offer adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At least 24 000 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 in the country so far, with over 100 fatalities have been recorded.

“If there's nothing positive or favourable to our demands, it will be unfortunate that on September 10 we will have to withdraw our labour completely,” Zola Saphetha, general secretary of Nehawu, told media yesterday.

Yesterday, members of Nehawu held a lunch-hour picket outside Somerset Hospital in Cape Town, as well as outside the National Health Laboratories Service (NHLS) in Braamfontein.

Union members will picket for the next week during lunch break, before embarking on a national protest on September 3.It confirmed that all its members would stay away from work at all public health facilities on Friday.

"Today’s action is a launching pad for the real national day of action on September 3rd,” said Saphetha. "We have already been told that there will be no increases so that is one of the reasons we are out here. Also, we are here today because we care about the lives of our NHLS workers.

"As you know, they are the ones that are responsible for testing. So instruments that are required for them and are necessary to protect their lives aren't provided.”

Saphetha said it had engaged with the Department of Health. “Their response was of course disappointing. The department told us that moving forward we need to find a platform to discuss the matters.

“We have agreed, however, that there must be a meeting between a team led by myself and a director-general where we must look at the possibility of securing PPEs. Nehawu will engage with a particular sponsor who has demonstrated a commitment to do so.”

“So we have asked the department to join us in that discussion so that we can have joint plans to deliver those PPEs and we will be doing that on Monday, but that is not enough. The effort is coming from our part to ensure that the lives of our frontline workers are protected.”

Nehawu’s national spokesperson Khaya Xaba said it would be going ahead with at least seven demonstrations scheduled nationally over the next two months because the "government had shown that health workers were on their own.

“The national union has chosen not to fold its arms and 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,” he said.

“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.”

Xaba said workers are “extremely angry” at the lack of PPE as well as a shortage of staff and no salary increases. “They 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 while watching the elite benefiting from the proceeds of corruption through PPE tenders and supply of other Covid-19 essentials.

”All workers are under siege by intransigent and reckless employers, which has led to perpetual rising numbers of infections with the novel coronavirus.”

“When we announced this action, people said we are being irresponsible, including the Minister himself, instead of him finding solutions to the issues we have. He is the one being irresponsible," added December Mavuso, deputy general secretary of Nehawu.

The Saturday Star

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