The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the Department of Health are at loggerheads on the protection of health-care workers, who are alleged to be subjected to Covid-19 infection.
The country’s biggest union in the health sector had this week accused Health Minister Zweli Mkhize of ignoring agreements, which were reached in April regarding the establishment of a team, which would comprise union leaders and health management, to strengthen the Occupational Health and Safety committee in training health workers on how to deal with Covid-19 and also improve supplying them with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Nehawu said in a statement that instead of establishing the team, Mkhize and his counterpart at Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, established a Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) with a specific focus on social behaviour and community mobilisation.
“As Nehawu, we totally reject this as we do not believe it is a suitable and effective platform to engage on urgent matters that concern the health and safety of our members and workers, (and) as an important stakeholder we believe we should be able to engage the Minister and MECs directly and not to be reduced into a labour desk of any Ministry,” read a statement from the union.
Part of its reason for rejecting the MAC, chaired by South African Council of Churches general- secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, was that Mkhize was allegedly not part of it and therefore it did not regard it as a platform to engage with him.
“It is this committee that the minister believes should be used as a platform for engagements with us, despite the commitment made at the meeting of April 8 that the minister will meet with us fortnightly and such never happened as we last met the Minister on April 8,” Nehawu said.
But addressing the virtual Covid-19 conference on Friday, Mkhize said the MAC would focus on ground mobilisation for behavioural change, which would contribute in flattening the Covid-19 curve.
He said the committee would engage with civil society, communities, traditional leaders, traditional healers, religious organisations, labour and all stakeholders.
Mkhize said the country was facing challenges on the availability of PPE because of “high demand, over-utilisation, sometimes poor quality, corruption, price gouging and maldistribution”.
“This requires immediate resolution to protect our health workers as they are the backbone of our health services and also to avert labour disputes,” Mkhize said.
“This is a matter we expect the minister will engage us on as it requires urgent corrective action considering the rising numbers of infected front-line workers.
“The lacklustre reaction by the minister does not inspire confidence and will lead to more infections and fatalities,” the union said.
Mkhize’s office this week said in a statement that the MAC’s Multi- Sectoral Ministerial Advisory Committee, which he and Zulu launched in June, comprised unions including Nehawu.
The department said Mkhize had in July requested that a labour work stream be formed by the MAC to investigate issues affecting health workers with a focus on the PPE requirements.
“This will now be augmented and the department will benefit from the work done by the labour work stream of the multi sectoral MAC to timeously respond to concerns raised,” read the health statement.
Contacted on Friday to respond, Mkhize’s spokesperson, Lwazi Manzi, said: “I will ask minister but he’s in the NEC all day.
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