The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is deeply concerned and worried after the World Health Organisation (WHO)classified Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a global pandemic. For an outbreak to be classified as a pandemic, it means there is big trouble. The number of cases in South Africa, mainly from people who had travelled to other areas in Asia, Europe and the Americas is exponentially increasing, demonstrating that we might potentially have a significant challenge in our hands as the country.
As of the 18th March 2020, it has been reported that South Africa had 116 cases of COVID19, where people had tested positive. The spread of the coronavirus happened over the course of less than two weeks.
Last week at this time, we had more than 30 cases that were known. It is no longer business as usual and we must act like people facing a pandemic and not be complacent and only start acting when we have serious problems.
As the NUM, we note the efforts made by our Government in South Africa and call upon business; trade union members and society at large to play our part in ensuring that we take hygiene matters seriously and follow set procedures outlined by the State President of our Country.
The NUM notes the following:
• “National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is of the firm belief that given the health, the social and economic impact of coronavirus, Cabinet must demonstrate political leadership. Political leadership is many things, but at the elementary level, it is about making choices that may be unpopular in the short-term but hailed as revolutionary over time. If the government does not act properly future will judge it negatively.
• The NUM is worried about the impact COVID-19 on People Living with HIV and those with TB, especially those who are not on treatment. This against the backdrop that mineworkers and Construction workers are a key population in terms of TB. Although we still do not have information on how this virus could be connected with TB and HIV.
The NUM has the following advice to the industry:
1. Primary prevention (prevent exposure/transmission):
• Business continuity and pandemic preparedness – Companies must develop, in urgent policies that address commitment and response on this pandemic;
• Minimise risks of transmission in the workplace.
• Education and Training /HP (risk communication)
• All mass events are cancelled with immediate effect including but not limited to the World TB Day on 24 March 2020, Regional Councils etc.
• Companies to provide hygiene tools for workers to use such as sanitizers; soap; gloves and those with minor flu coughing to be given masks to prevent the spread of the disease.
2. Secondary Prevention:
• Identify persons at risk early and respond appropriately
• Medical screening / Medical Surveillance / Treatment
3. Tertiary prevention:
• Respond appropriately to a case of COVID-19 amongst staff
• Compensation (COIDA) for workers who contract the disease whilst at work, such as healthcare practitioners in Mine clinics; construction sites and or Eskom clinical sites;
• Leave/ special leave arrangements. Workers must not be disadvantaged on taking medical leave due to symptoms or quarantined period.
4. Risk categorisation for different workers:
4.1. Policies and standard procedures:
• Access control methods (security guards, biometrics. etc.). Biometrics must be discontinued for use with immediate effect.
• Waiting areas, communal spaces and shared facilities
• Specific operations aligned with high-risk categories
• Reporting off-sick, leave and special leave arrangements
• Medical management procedures to address COVID-19 in the workplace
• Communication platforms… accessible to all workers, relevant information around COVID-19
. Facts about how the disease is transmitted
. An updated list of affected countries.
. Latest policies regarding sick leave.
. Don’t punish people for staying away for ‘flu’
. Make it possible to work from home
• Understand travel risks and make informed decisions on the risk-benefit of travelling.
The Department of Labour and the Department of the Minerals Resources and Energy must provide key leadership to workers in our organising sectors, i.e. Mining; Construction and Energy to assist to develop sectoral baseline risk assessment to highlight high potential risk areas at the workplaces in urgency.
We will continue to meet and engage various stakeholders to ensure the health and safety of our members at workplaces and within their communities.