The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has vowed to call on all its members to apply to go on leave during the peak of the Covid-19 virus, as it claimed that 107 health workers had already died.
The biggest union in the health sector on Tuesday held a press briefing in which it accused the Health Department of failing to protect its employees from the virus.
Its general secretary, Zola Saphetha, said the union would engage in a national demonstration across the country to voice its dissatisfaction with the failure to protect front-line workers from Covid-19 infection.
Saphetha said the union would first hand over a memorandum to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office, Parliament and to all premiers’ offices to complain about the government’s inability to save lives.
“We are going to give our government five days to respond, and it must respond favourably to us, as failure to do so on September 10, at the peak time of this virus, will lead to our members completely withdrawing their labour,” said Saphetha.
He said the quality of personal protective equipment given to health workers, including masks, was not good enough to prevent infection.
“If these front-line workers are the ones who are sick there will be no one to attend to the nation. So we will have full-blown action, and that full-blown action will be in the form of a complete withdrawal of labour, and unfortunately that would happen at the peak of this virus,” he said.
He said the union would also go on a drive to explain to society the danger facing front-line workers.
Saphetha said health workers would capitalise on the fact that they were entitled by law to take leave. He said recent stats from the Department of Health had indicated that 13000 health workers had been infected with Covid-19, and of that number, 10275 were members of Nehawu, which he said accounted for 78% of the overall infections (in the health sector).
“We cannot fold our hands while our members are dying.
“107 workers have lost their lives. In Gauteng alone we have lost six office-bearers (of Nehawu),” he said.
Saphetha said the union had received information that workers were being threatened with dismissal if they were caught disclosing information about their colleagues who were being infected.
He said that in the build-up to the national programme of action, Nehawu leaders would between July 30 and August 11 hold meetings with its members, including those who were working in private institutions, to canvas them to join the protest action.
They would also look for support from other alliance affiliates, including the South African Students’ Congress and the Young Communist League.
The Department of Health had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.
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