Union threatens legal action over lack of protective gear for health workers

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South Africa’s biggest public sector union, Nehawu, has threatened Health Minister Zweli Mkhize with court action, accusing his department of allegedly forcing some health workers to work without protective gear, reports Cape Argus . The union also accuses the department of not adhering to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, which states that a comprehensive plan should be in place to mitigate any danger related to healthcare workers contracting the disease while performing their duties.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said the union had “raised sharply the glaring weaknesses and inadequacies” of the “Guidelines on the Management of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Public Service” after these were recently presented by government at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. “Nehawu is shocked and highly disappointed that its members and workers, who include doctors, nurses, cleaners, ambulance and morgue workers, are to date still highly exposed to occupational risks and are forced to work without the necessary personal protective equipment as per clause 4.4 of the Workplace Preparedness: COVID-19 Guidelines of the Department of Employment and Labour at different workplaces across the country,” Saphetha said.

He indicated that exposing workers to occupational hazards and endangering their health and lives would result in the union heading to court should the matter not be urgently addressed.

Among the union’s demands is that all duties that endanger the health and safety of healthcare workers be stopped until there is full compliance with the OHS Act and for the workers to be immediately provided with personal protective equipment that should include gloves, masks and eye shields, among other items.

“While our members are on the front line of fighting the virus, it is imperative that they are given all the necessary personal protective equipment and sanitisers. Their safety is a non-debatable matter and we will fight until the bitter end to ensure that they are protected,” he said.

Mkhize’s spokesperson Lwazi Manzi said the minister was aware of the union’s demands and the court threat, but that he would address the issue publicly later.

Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)

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