Nehawu threatens national strike over lack of PPE

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Health workers have threatened to go on a national strike in September, when the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to peak in parts of the country, over a lack of protective gear. Business Day reports that the National Education, Heath and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which represents most health workers, said that the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at public healthcare facilities is so dire that front-line workers have resorted to wearing refuse bags to protect themselves.

The threat of a strike comes as mass gatherings remain prohibited in the country as one of the measures put in place by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The union’s leadership was so concerned by the high rate of coronavirus infections among healthcare workers it visited all the COVID-19 hot-spot facilities around the country in June.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said almost all managers in public healthcare facilities had no idea how long their PPE supply would last and had “no plan in place to avoid stock depletion”. PPE gear is a crucial component in the fight against coronavirus as it shields healthcare workers and the general public from contracting the virus. The wearing of masks/face coverings in public is now law.

At Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, the union said its team found that workers had to resort to using refuse bags to protect themselves. “The bottom-line with regard to PPE is that it was never adequate in the first place; the available PPE is still not adequate in terms of what is experienced by our members at an institutional level and for the projected peak of the (pandemic),” said Saphetha.

Saphetha said there will be “full blown action” and a “complete withdrawal of labour” in all sectors if the government does not respond favourably to demands. Other demands are that the government abandon the “decentralised and fragmented approach” for the procurement of PPE.

Full Business Day report

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