The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) has noted government’s decision to lower lockdown restrictions and move the country to level 3. SAMWU appreciates and fully supports of government’s efforts of balancing the economy and public health.
Following government’s announcement, municipalities have begun recalling all workers to return for duty as of June 1. We have noted with great concern that municipalities were never ready for lockdown level 5 and 4, there is therefore no reason for us to believe that they will be ready for a more relaxed level 3 which includes 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 subsidizing the operations of the employer.
Some municipalities have been telling workers that they do not have the funds to procure PPEs for workers as these were never budgeted for and have not received any financial support from national government for the procurement of such. These municipalities have resorted to rather encouraging workers to socially distance, something that is impossible given the fact that some of the tasks required of these workers require 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. Essentially municipalities’ failure to guarantee the health and safety of workers is tantamount to municipalities sending workers to slaughterhouses.
This situation has further been made worse by the failure by 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 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.
In announcing lockdown regulations for level 3, COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma highlighted the fact that risk of infections increasing at a higher rate is now greater. With this announcement, more municipal workers are 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 which have been identified as hotspots. It would therefore be irresponsible of municipalities to recall municipal workers back to the workplace when worker’s health and safety cannot be guaranteed.
In the interest 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. As per regulations of the Department of Labour and Employment and OSHA, workers cannot be victimized or suspended for refusal to work in unsafe environments.
As the country moves to level 3, all of the union’s structures will be vigilant and guard against municipalities deliberately sending workers to slaughterhouses. We are not in a position to negotiate the health and safety of workers; it should be guaranteed.
The union further sends its condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of workers and South Africans who have lost the battle against the virus. We further wish those who have contracted the virus strength to beat this virus.