The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) says it will take urgent legal action against the government to compel it to protect its members on duty and at risk of contracting Covid-19.
Nehawu said it took this decision after numerous and mounting reports of the government’s failure to develop and implement a rollout plan which includes provision of personal protective equipment [PPE] and sanitisers to health workers.
Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said scores of its members, who include nurses, doctors, pharmacists and porters, have thrown themselves to the front lines to carry out their duties to save the lives of people during the national epidemic.
Saphetha said even before the declaration of the state of disaster, the union had been making requests for a meeting with the health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and departmental officials, but to no avail.
Saphetha said the union had written to the employer seeking information about government plans to enforce the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure workers on duty would be protected.
He said the union had also taken additional steps, including making proposals to the government’s national nerve centre, to mitigate the situation.
The union has raised a number of concerns, including inadequate supply of PPEs and sanitisers, the lack of ventilators and quarantine beds, and the provision of transportation for all critical workers during the lockdown.
Nehawu also raised concerns about catering for critical staff in the present conditions.
“Our proposals also take into account the fact that the provision of the PPEs and sanitisers to protect health care and other supportive staff, in an environment lacking other critical interventions to protect community members, would on its own not be adequate.”
Saphetha said without a large-scale related programme that ensures more quarantine beds and ventilators are available, that community members arriving at health care centres are screened and tested, and that there are well-protected teams embarking on contact tracing, front-line workers and the health care centres themselves would eventually be overwhelmed by the spiking infections and the numbers of sick people.
“Unfortunately, to date the department is still not forthcoming with such a plan, let alone the fact that in many health care centres there is still no delivery of the PPEs, sanitisers and other preventive paraphernalia to protect workers and patients from cross-infections in health care centres.”
The union welcomed the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa of a mass testing campaign by 10,000 volunteers to be recruited to test people in communities.
“However, we are very worried about the lack of PPEs for these volunteers. If they work without proper protective clothing and sanitisers they will run the risk of being infected or spreading the virus while they visit households.”