HOW UNIONS HAVE MANAGED TO SECURE WORKERS RIGHTS DURING THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

With COSATU’s affiliates who persuaded the Government’s intervention together with the Department of Labour to provide relief to workers. Its implementation of drawing from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, assisting negatively affected companies, as well as relief in the amount of R350.00 paid to those who are unemployed. Food parcels were given to struggling households.

CEPPWAWU through COSATU played a huge role in forcing essential companies to reduce the number of workers and increase shifts so that they maintain a social distance. We also made sure that employers provided complete and enough PPE’s and to ensure there is no body contact. We created a mini Health and Safety mini committees’ to monitor the situation and report to the union if any intervention is needed.

COSATU also came on board by joining the Government to ensure the implementation of Relief assistance. CEPPWAWU participate in the COSATU war room. This is to ensure there is no unfair labour practice towards workers.

Challenges:

Companies are taking advantage of the COVID 19 situation to exploit workers despite the Government’s proposal that companies must apply for relief. Most have embarked in retrenchments. However, all this has been reported to COSATU as well as at the Department of Labour.

Women are also in a vulnerable situation as they are at the forefront in many essential services, as health workers, community health care workers, hospital and supermarket cleaners, and cashiers in supermarkets. As essential workers, they have young children who cannot go to crèche as all Day-care centres are affected by the lockdown. This tender these young children vulnerable. The parents may be in contact with patients and customers who are COVID19 positive and they can get their children ill.

A shortage of PPE’s from suppliers also poses a challenge. Stores are out of Sanitizer, masks and gloves. The companies that produce these essentials are under pressure. Corruption is also rife on PPE Procurement and millions of Rands have been misused whereas Health workers are put at risk as they work without necessary and quality PPE’s. In COSATU alone, we lost a huge number of members who worked in hospitals and clinics as a result of the corruption, they paid with their lives.

Recommendations:

Unions as frontline contact, need to be capacitated to deal with the coronavirus. We also need to deal with it at all levels as workers representatives. What is trending now is that those who are 60+ are prone to getting the virus, but I don’t think those are the only ones who are prone. We have younger people who are HIV+, cancer and other incurable diseases that make them vulnerable to the pandemic. Many of those younger ones will not divulge their status due to stigma. Instead will put their lives at risk to save their jobs.

We need a strategy of how we approach and address that.

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