news shutterstockIn our afternoon roundup, see summaries
of our selection of South African labour-
related stories that appeared thus far on
Thursday, 2 April 2020.


TOP STORY – CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN

Nxesi adds confusion to issue of whether employers can force employees to take annual leave during lockdown

BL Premium writes that confusion abounds on the rights and obligations of employees and employers during the economic shutdown and at a televised briefing on Tuesday labour minister Thulas Nxesi did a good job of adding to the confusion.  He expressed disapproval of employers who had opted to compel employees to take their annual leave, but in the very next sentence acknowledged that this was in fact their legal right.  Under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), employers should strive to reach agreement with employees on when their leave will be taken.  But where there is no agreement, employers may compel employees to take their leave at a specified time.  Nxesi stated:  “We do understand that in terms of the leave determination, employers can compel employees to take leave at any time as they deem fit.  However, this is a unique situation that requires all of us to act in a manner that promotes social solidarity.”  The resulting interpretation by the media was that employers may not compel employees to take their annual leave at this time.  While this interpretation is wrong, it is now widely believed to be the case by trade unions.  Regarding “unpaid leave”, the BCEA is silent.  According to legal advice to Nedlac, what would apply where workers are told to stay at home and will not be paid is “supervening impossibility”.  This is where unforeseeable circumstances prevent someone from fulfilling a contract through no fault of their own, similar to the idea of issuing a force majeure on a supplier contract.

Read the full original of the informative report in the above regard by Carol Paton at BusinessLive (paywall access only)

KZN health-care workers hardest hit by shortages of personal protective gear

The Mercury reports that health-care workers at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic in public hospitals are concerned about their health and safety, as they are expected to work without masks and protective gear.  The already stressed workers were dealt another blow this week, when they received correspondence from their respective managers, threatening them with disciplinary action if they refused to work without masks or protective gear.  Mandla Shabangu, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) secretary of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), said they were considering legal action to interdict the department against instituting disciplinary action against staff who refused to work at a facility without personal protective equipment (PPE).  According to Shabangu, the KZN municipalities, especially eThekwini and uMgungundlovu, were hardest hit by the national shortage of PPE.  Dr Akhtar Hussain of the SA Medical Association (Sama) said the health department’s failure to provide PPE to health-care workers was a human-rights violation.  He indicated that they were addressing the matter with Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, as it was unacceptable to threaten staff with disciplinary action when their own health was at risk.  Sama has asked members to provide it with the names of hospitals not providing staff with PPE.  However, the department denied there was a shortage of masks, adding that it would be addressing the matter with health-care facilities that were without protective gear.  The department is also expected to have a meeting with unions.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Kailene Pillay and Lyse Comins at The Mercury

Eight KZN paramedics ‘refuse’ to ferry infected patient because of lack of protective gear and training

SowetanLive reports that a group of eight paramedics in KwaZulu-Natal allegedly refused to transport a Covid-19 patient last month after claiming that they were not provided with protective gear or adequate training.  They told their superiors on 23 March that they were ill-equipped to handle patients who had tested positive for Covid-19.  This was after they were instructed to transport a patient from a local Pietermaritzburg clinic to Northdale Hospital for treatment.  However, an official from the department said their refusal came a week after Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff were provided with training during a workshop.  The source added:  The district manager had to go to Grey's Hospital where the group is stationed to convince them to attend to the call but they still refused.  She even gave them protective gear but they still refused.  Another ambulance had to be dispatched from Durban to transport the patient."  One of the paramedics concerned indicated on Wednesday that they had not refused to attend to the patient but had questioned how they were expected to carry out their duties with minimal training.  Nehawu provincial secretary Ayanda Zulu said there were no records reflecting that their members were trained or given protective gear to allow them to carry out their tasks.

Read the original of the report in the above regard by Tankiso Makhetha at SowetanLive

SABC evacuates parts of TV centre in Auckland Park in effort to contain spread of Covid-19

HeraldLive reports that the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has evacuated several parts of its TV centre building in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.  Daily shows such as Morning Live, On-Point and Fullview are now being broadcast from Nasrec.  The use of biometric scans for employee access was also suspended this week, with all nonessential staff members now working remotely after an employee tested positive for Covid-19 last week.  The infected employee was based in Johannesburg and was part of the news research unit housed in the TV centre building in Auckland Park.  SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said the move to an off-site broadcast area was in line with efforts to ensure the SABC diversified its business operations and minimised the movement of people in its premises.  But the Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Union (Bemawu), which welcomed the move, said it was happening more than a week late.  Bemawu’s Hannes du Buisson said they had raised these issues with the SABC in a meeting on 19 March, but the public broadcaster only started acting this week in comparison to other companies, including MultiChoice.  The union has also raised issues with regard to shortages of sanitisers and other protective equipment including masks for employees currently at work.  The SABC this week urgently requested residential addresses of freelance workers as it plans to provide them with transportation during the lockdown.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Isaac Mahlangu at HeraldLive

Duduza Clinic in Ekurhuleni closed after nurse tests positive for Covid-19

TimesLIVE reports that the City of Ekurhuleni closed the Duduza Clinic indefinitely on Wednesday after a nurse tested positive for the coronavirus.  The nurse had attended a prayer breakfast at Divine Restoration Ministries in Bloemfontein on 10 March before the 100 people gathering limit was imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.  ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe and another party official also tested positive for Covid-19 after attending the same breakfast.  The nurse underwent a test for Covid-19 on Monday, after being identified as a contact of the Bloemfontein gathering.  The results returned positive and the nurse has subsequently been placed in quarantine under medical observation.  Clinical staff who work at the clinic and have displayed symptoms of Covid-19 have been tested and are currently under self-isolation as they await their test results.  Staff who have not displayed symptoms have been placed on special leave to self-isolate until further notice.  The city said potential contacts were currently being traced and would be tested for Covid-19 to mitigate against community transmissions.  The clinic and the surrounding area will be sanitised during the period of closure.  Two mobile clinics will be deployed to the area to serve the community for the period of the closure.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Ernest Mabuza at TimesLIVE

Sadtu claims that KZN teacher got virus at hospital

The Citizen reports that the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is adamant that a KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) schoolteacher who succumbed to Covid-19 was infected with the disease at a local hospital.  The union expressed shock and sadness at the untimely death of member Tholakele Shandu as a result of contracting the coronavirus.  She was a teacher at Plattdrive Primary School in Isipingo.  Sadtu said in a statement on Wednesday that Shandu had been suffering from severe abdominal pains and was admitted to St Augustine Hospital, where she spent about two-and-a-half weeks.  After being discharged, she became more ill and was readmitted and diagnosed with asthma.  She died at the hospital on Tuesday.  “Sadtu strongly believes Tholakele contracted the virus when she was first admitted at St Augustine Hospital. According to her family, she was hospitalised with an elderly patient in her ward,” the union reported.  The union appealed to hospitals to exercise social distancing on patients.  “We also call on the department of health to trace and track all who may have been in contact with Tholakele.”

Read the original of the report in the above regard by Eric Naki at The Citizen

Saftu’s Zwelinzima Vavi tests positive for Covid-19

News24 reports that SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has tested positive for Covid-19.  He told eNCA during an interview on Thursday that he had no idea how he was exposed to the novel coronavirus.  Vavi said he was tested for the virus on Wednesday after catching what felt like the flu on Friday.  His condition worsened over the weekend.  Vavi joins a string of prominent South Africans who have contracted the virus, including ACDP leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe and MP Steve Swart, as well as the president of Netball South Africa, Cecilia Molokwane.  Vavi said he underwent a test to be on the safe side and explained further as follows:  "The worst I was expecting was to test positive and there you are… the reason why it's such a dangerous disease or virus is because you take it so lightly."  Vavi told News24 that when he received his results, he was already feeling better.

Read the original of the report in the above regard by Tshidi Madia at News24

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • Building at Unisa’s Pretoria campus closed as professor tests positive for Covid-19, at TimesLIVE


OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY

Western Cape premier turns to cops to curb attacks on paramedics in Western Cape

News24 reports that with paramedics having again come under attack, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has held high-level talks with the police.  On Wednesday, he indicated:  "Our healthcare workers and frontline staff must be kept safe.  Over the past week, we have continued to see a number of attacks on our Emergency Medical Services [EMS] officials and vehicles."  Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo added:  "It is important for our people to realise that the safety of our communities is inextricably linked to the safety of health workers.  It is sad that often these attacks take place in extremely vulnerable communities where emergency services are most needed.  Currently, we are facing challenging service pressures with the Covid-19 pandemic in our country.  This is a period when Emergency Medical Services will be in demand at a community level, even more so in the public health system.  Mbombo urged all residents to protect EMS personnel while they were rendering their crucial services and asked that they should they witness any attacks to report those to the police immediately.  

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Murray Williams at News24


STATE WAGE BILL

Public servants’ wage increases on ice as unions move to declare dispute

Fin24 reports that an increase in the wages of public servants, which was originally due to kick in on 1 April in terms of a wage agreement reached in 2018, is still on ice.  This comes after Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced an ambitious plan in his recent Budget address to save some R160 billion in the state's wage bill over three years.  But in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said the wage bill was not bloated, and accused the minister of being "irresponsible" in announcing his plans in his Budget address instead of in a collective bargaining process.  Unions indicated on Wednesday that the first steps had been taken towards declaring a dispute.  "Cosatu prepared a letter putting them [government] on terms.  They acknowledged receipt of our letter.  We are completing the referral of a dispute so that we follow the internal processes," Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) and Cosatu coordinator at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), advised.  Once the council has appointed a commissioner, a conciliation or arbitration process would follow, Maluleke advised.  Indicating that the collective agreement was "legally binding”, he went on to say:  "We don't think there will be any solution, really, apart from the legal route that is prescribed by the Constitution of the PSCBC."  A Department of Public Service and Administration spokesperson that it "continued to look for solutions".

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Marelise van der Merwe at Fin24. Read too, Union want to take pay fight to court, on page 2 of The Star of 2 April 2020

‘Unions risk rendering themselves irrelevant if they remain locked in ideological fortresses’

Natasha Marrian writes that no-one can predict what our country will look like on the other side of the present health and economic crises.  Dramatic shifts are already apparent in the economy, and in our politics.  But, consequences of the pandemic and the economic meltdown do not have to be only negative and they could present an opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration to effect the reforms that were expected when he took office.  For the past two years, the president has had a tough time taking decisions, having to appease factions in the ANC and his many opponents.  The public sector wage bill is an example of crippling indecision — the government took forever to act, despite finance minister Tito Mboweni having revealed last year the mess bequeathed by former public administration minister Faith Muthambi, who signed off on wage hikes without the requisite mandate.  Now workers are not going to receive the last leg of an agreed-upon increase (due in April) and there is little at present they can do about it.  But, this presents an opportunity for Ramaphosa’s administration to address the public-sector wage bill decisively.  It is very likely that the pay issue will end up as the subject of lengthy court battles, which could stretch well into next year and coincide with the local government elections next year.  Cosatu-aligned unions could try to use the polls as a whip to shift the government’s stance, but this will not necessarily work.  SA — its parties, unions and society as a whole — will have to reckon with the new normal of the post-pandemic era, in which we relate to each other in fundamentally different ways.  Unions, for their part, run the risk of rendering themselves irrelevant if they remain locked in ideological fortresses.

Read the full original of Natasha Marrian’s opinion piece at BusinessLive (paywall access only)


PROTESTS

Contract waste workers in Ekurhuleni defy lockdown to protest over unpaid wages

The Citizen reports that 150 waste removal workers employed by a waste removal contractor appointed by the City of Ekurhuleni this week defied lockdown regulations by staging a protest in Palm Ridge over unpaid wages.  According to the directors of the contractor, Nokeng Gundo Waste Management, they had not yet been paid by the city, which led to the monies not being transferred into staffers’ bank accounts.  One of the workers said:  “We did not mean to gather in this way to disobey the lockdown regulations, but we had no choice.  Our families are suffering financially because we have not been paid our salaries since 25 March.  We are being given excuses daily, while we are expected to report for work.”  Another said:  “It is unacceptable that we are being given food parcels instead of being paid our salaries.  In waste collection, we work under very hazardous conditions, especially now that there is the spread of the coronavirus.”  Ekurhuleni spokesperson Themba Gadebe said the city had “a legal, contractual agreement with Nokeng and has been meeting its legal obligations to the contractor and therefore cannot comment on the labour affairs of Nokeng”.  He added:  “The city condemns in the strongest possible terms the withholding of salaries by any service provider contracted to the city in exchange for food parcels, if the allegation are true.”  But, Nokeng Gundo director Colin Tshivhase blamed the city for payment delays and reiterated that “The City of Ekurhuleni has not paid us yet.”

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Brian Sokutu at The Citizen


MINING LABOUR

Union, mines clash over continued operations during lockdown

The Citizen reports that mining houses and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are at loggerheads over concerns expressed by the union about some mining companies continuing their operations, despite the declaration of a 21-day lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.  NUM president Joseph Montisetse described it as “worrying and disturbing” that some mines operated on reduced staff, “showing they don’t care about the lives of their employees”.  He commented further as follows:  “They care about profits, which cannot outweigh the lives of mineworkers. The decision to continue operating is barbaric, reckless, inhuman and irresponsible. As the NUM, we want to know who gave these mining companies the right to operate during the 21-day lockdown.  The NUM, said Montisetse, was also “extremely unhappy with some companies who have resorted to a no-work-no pay policy during the lockdown”.  In response, Minerals Council SA spokesperson Charmaine Russell confirmed that some mining companies were in operation, but were “supportive of measures announced by President Ramaphosa”.  She explained as follows:  “Companies servicing critical export markets may have applied for exemptions on a case-by-case basis for limited operations.  Activities involved in internal essential services, including security, ventilation, cooling and pumping, refrigeration, tailings facilities and specialised maintenance, are continuing and so is the provision of water and other supplies to communities and services to staff residences.”

Read the original of the report in the above regard by Eric Naki and Brian Sokutu at The Citizen

Read too, Anglo American on operating during lockdown: 'We care for workers and the economy', at TimesLIVE

AngloGold Ashanti hands over two mine hospitals to government as part of frontline Covid-19 response

Miningmx reports that the mining industry’s unique positioning as a potential frontline response to the Covid-19 outbreak in SA was demonstrated by AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), which on Thursday said it had made two hospitals available for the exclusive use of provincial governments.  The facilities will be used by the authorities for the treatment and isolation of Covid-19 patients.  A fully equipped, 270-bed West Vaal facility near Orkney in the North West province and a hospital at West Wits near Carletonville, west of Johannesburg, have been made available.  The West Wits facility had been closed for a number of years following restructuring of gold mining operations in the region.  It has capacity for almost 300 beds and is “in good condition”.  AGA said it had also donated masks to the Merafong municipality in Gauteng, the Matlosana municipality in the North West Province, and the Chris Hani, OR Tambo and Amathole municipalities in the Eastern Cape.  Some 5,000 care parcels consisting of groceries, handwash, multipurpose cleaner and a Covid19 information booklet have also been distributed to the needy.  AGA has moreover pledged R20m to the Solidarity Response Fund.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by David McKay at Miningmx

 


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