We refer to the abovementioned matter.
We want to take this opportunity to salute and thank our members that are at the forefront in fighting the COVID – 19 virus. Many IMATU members are involved in essential services that are required to keep the country and the economy afloat. IMATU members have heeded the call of our government to continue working, despite the dangers associated with the coronavirus. On all accounts essential services are running smoothly and uninterruptedly.
At this stage we are not sure whether President Ramaphosa is going to extend the lockdown period, but irrespective of the decision of our government, the fight against COVID – 19 is far from over. The lockdown is an attempt by government to “flatten the curve” but it does not mean that the virus will be defeated by 17 April 2020. We will have to continue the fight against the virus well past this date.
The World Health Organisation referred to the pandemic as the biggest threat to humanity since the Second World War. As at 8 April 2020, there were 1 487 870 confirmed infections, with 88 630 deaths in 184 countries (source: John Hopkins University of Medicine). In South Africa we had 1 845 confirmed infections, with 18 deaths according to the same source. It was reported yesterday that more people in New York have died from the virus than did in 2001 with the attack on the World Trade Centre. We must bear in mind that our winter is set to start in the next month and this may also play a very negative role in the fight against the virus.
The aforesaid is testament to the fight that lies ahead for the country. It also emphasises the very important role that municipalities and our members are going to continue to play in the foreseeable future. IMATU is proud of our members and their commitment to play a leading and decisive role in continuing to deliver services to our communities.
Unfortunately, we have received a number of reports where municipalities have not complied with their obligations to ensure a healthy and safe working environment and/or are not providing employees with appropriate safety equipment. To this end, a meeting of the SALGBC party representatives was convened to discuss a number of pressing issues facing the sector (the meeting was held via video conferencing so as to ensure compliance with the lockdown regulations).
It was agreed that in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (OHSA) municipalities, as employers in the local government sector, are required to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is both safe and risk-free to the health of its employees. Municipalities must provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to those frontline essential service employees, which at minimum, are the following:
- Face masks;
- Temperature tests for those employees who face direct exposure to individuals possibly affected by the virus; and
- Other related equipment.
The OHSA also imposes a duty on employers to:
- Take steps to eliminate or mitigate any hazard or potential hazard, before resorting to personal protective equipment;
- Provide information, instructions, training and supervision that may be necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees at work; and
- Enforce such measures, as may be necessary, in the interests of health and safety.
Employees also have a duty to take care of their own health and obey the health and safety rules of the employer. If an employee becomes aware of a situation that is unsafe or unhealthy, he or she must report such a situation to his or her immediate supervisor as soon as possible.
The parties have agreed that those municipalities who are not complying with these OHSA obligations must be identified and every effort must be made to report them to the appropriate authorities for non – compliance. This is to ensure that applicable and timeous remedies are put in place to ensure compliance, which may include holding such municipalities accountable for the consequences, as provided for in law. In the same vein, where non – compliant municipalities require support to ensure compliance with their legal obligations, the parties have undertaken to do their utmost to provide assistance to affected municipalities.
Members must ensure that non-compliance with such health and safety requirements is reported to senior management, line management, your local shop steward and the Regional Office. If management does not take pro-active steps to rectify the matter, then the matter should be reported to the Department of Health and the Department of Labour.
The parties, at the meeting of 8 April 2020, also acknowledged the danger faced by frontline employees fighting the disease. It was agreed that the following advice be given to structures at municipal level:
- The Main Collective Agreement does not cater for a danger allowance;
- If a municipality has a policy that regulates a danger allowance, then the issue must be managed in terms of the relevant municipal policy;
- If there is no such policy at a particular municipality, then the senior management of the municipality and the local leadership of IMATU and SAMWU must discuss the matter. The parties must attempt to come to an amicable solution and attempt to identify the employees within the essential service designation who are indeed exposed to dangers or hazards. Parties must also try and identify the procedure to be applied to compensate such employees through the payment of a danger allowance; and
- The municipality must keep a proper record or register of all employees that were on the frontline of danger or faced direct exposure to the disease.
The parties also agreed, in principle, to consider and negotiate a compensatory framework and matters incidental thereto, once the lockdown is over. This process will happen at a national level and will be guided by inter alia the following criteria:
- Recognise those employees who were exposed directly to danger when working during the lockdown period. As an example, a nurse administering a swab during testing faces greater exposure to danger than an employee working remotely from home. The nurse is a category of employee who ought to receive some form of compensation;
- Employees not exposed to danger of the disease and who stayed at home during the lockdown should not be eligible for any additional compensation; and
- The form compensation.
Due to the lockdown it is not possible to finalise our IMATU mandate (the other parties to the SALGBC also need to obtain mandates). This will be done as soon as the lockdown is over.
We have also been advised that a number of municipalities have compelled employees to take compulsory annual leave during the lockdown period. We regard this as grossly unfair and this is totally unacceptable. We will also table this issue at the national bargaining council once the lockdown is over.
We ask members to stay safe; keep your families safe; adhere to the lockdown regulations; continue to frequently wash your hands and use sanitizers. Please do not put your health or that of your family at risk.
Finally, those members of the Christian faith, we wish you a happy and joyful Easter.