The South African government announced on 17 March that it would not increase the pay of public sector workers, including health workers
When 48 health workers from a single hospital tested positive for COVID-19, NEHAWU, the health workers’ union, took out a legal case against the government, demanding that it provide adequate PPE as they struggle to deal with the pandemic.
On 10 April, in the depths of the coronavirus crisis, NEHAWU made this statement on its website:
“The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] notes the pronouncement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the decision of the National Coronavirus Command Council to extend the enforcement of the nation-wide lockdown by a further two weeks beyond the initial 21 days.
“The national union accepts the reasons forwarded by the President to justify the extension including the fact that there has been a decline in confirmed infections to a daily average of 4% during the lockdown from a daily increase of 42% in the two weeks before the lockdown. However, more still needs to be done to ensure that we are out of the woods as country and this will require discipline from all South Africans who are still expected to fully honour and comply with the nation-wide lockdown measures meant to flatten the curve to avoid a spike in new infections.
“The extension of the lockdown means that more assistance should be given to frontline workers in our healthcare facilities.
“Recently, we have observed a spike in the number of infected healthcare workers across the country. As mentioned before, we will work closely with the Department of Health to ensure the safety of our members and workers in general. We will ensure the full implementation of the outcomes of our meeting with the Minister of Health especially around the issues of adequate PPE’s, catering, transport, and mental health and counselling.
“Our members continue to serve our country selflessly during the fight against COVID-19. However, the issue of the implementation of the last leg of the 2018 public service wage agreement especially clause 3.3 of Resolution 1 of 2018 is still a thorny issue that remains unresolved. Our members need a firm commitment from our government that their salaries will be incremented according to the binding agreement signed at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] in 2018.
“As our members and workers face the daunting and sometimes life threatening task of testing, quarantining and treating those suspected or infected with the corona virus it will ease their minds knowing that government will not renege on the agreement and will indeed honour it by implementing the increase on the 15th April 2020.
“Once more we want to unequivocally state that there will be major and unprecedented consequences in not paying salary increases of ordinary workers and undermining collective bargaining by our government. The non-payment of salary increases is a declaration of war and government must brace itself for the mother of all wars should they elect to renege on the agreement.
“We welcome the announcement by the President that the executive (the Cabinet and deputy ministers) and provincial premiers will take an immediate 33% pay cut that will be channelled to the Solidarity Fund. In this regard, we call for these funds to be used to procure more Personal Protective Equipment and medicines.
“We note the implications of the extension of the lockdown on the economy and we welcome the steps taken by government to lessen the blow including assisting small business, workers and poor families. We call on the private sector to contribute more from their coffers to assist the less fortunate especially in informal settlements and rural areas.