NEWS & ANALYSIS

Workers of this country deserve far better – NEHAWU NEC

Union says it will continue to implement its programme of action until all demands are responded to adequately

NEHAWU post special NEC statement

14 September 2020

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] convened its Special National Executive Committee meeting on the 12th September 2020 to discuss the upcoming full-blown strike in all the sectors we organise.

The Special NEC affirmed as a matter of principle that the withdrawal of our labour power in all the sectors we organise remains a strategic and tactical approach to defend collective bargaining, the right to strike and a tool to protect our members and workers in general. The national union remains steadfast in pursuing of the national programme of action to defend its members and workers against COVID-19 and the improvement of working conditions and salaries.

The programme of action has been pursued on many fronts including various actions that have taken place across the country by our members and workers, while engagements have also been taking place between NEHAWU and employers. NEHAWU will continue to implement its programme of action until all demands are responded to adequately and positively for the benefit of its members and workers. 

After submitting the memorandum of demands on the 3rd September 2020 to the President of the Republic through the eight (8) Premiers, the Speaker of National Parliament and directly to the Union Buildings unfortunately the national union has yet to receive a response to the demands by the President. He was given seven days to respond which expired on the 10th September 2020. On the 11th September NEHAWU wrote to the Office of the President to remind him about the ultimatum which had expired and informing him about our intention to withdraw labour power. Disappointingly, the Office of the President has only acknowledged the receipt of our letter and nothing about responding to our demands.

The national union will continue with lunch hour demonstrations in all workplaces particularly in strategic workplaces across provinces whilst continuing discussions with the office of the President or representatives appointed by the President to respond to the demands contained in our memorandum. Simultaneously, the national union will continue to have sectoral meetings with different Ministers of different departments on all our demands. These meetings include the Ministers of Health, Employment and Labour, Social Development, Higher Education and Training, and the Public Service and Administration including SASSA and parastatals.

Another Special National Executive Committee meeting will be convened in two weeks’ time to receive a detailed report on the discussions and the outcomes of these meetings in order to assess whether or not they are making a headway in responding adequately and positively to our demands for the benefit of our members and workers. In the meantime, the national union will be intensifying its preparations and plan for a full blown strike which will affect both private and public health, parastatals, public service administration, higher education, including both private and public social development.

Both the 3rd October which is the World Federation of Trade Unions [WFTU] International Day of Action and the COSATU general strike on the 7th October 2020 will be integrated into our strike action plans.

On PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2018

NEHAWU remains unwavering in its struggle for government to honour the last leg of the three year wage agreement signed at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council [PSCBC] in 2018. Allowing government to renege on the full implementation of the binding agreement will further disadvantage workers and kill collective bargaining. On the 27th August 2020 the state in their application to the Labour Court decided to raise the same points that are before the PSCBC arbitration which in the main, pleading that Resolution 1 of 2018 which is a collective agreement is unconstitutional despite the state voluntarily signing it in 2018 negotiations.

In this regard, the union is filling papers to oppose the application of the Department of Public Service and Administration to declare Resolution 1 of 2018 as unconstitutional, null and void. Once the constitutionality of the agreement is determined then the agreement can be enforced. It is also important to note that NEHAWU has not abandoned the arbitration process in the PSCBC as reported in the media over the weekend, as that process has been stayed pending the determination of the constitutionality and overall validity of Resolution 1 of 2018 in the Labour Court. NEHAWU still maintains that the enforcement of a collective agreement is best executed at the PSCBC arbitration process and NEHAWU’s role in the Labour Court matter is only limited to challenging the invalidity and unconstitutionality of the Resolution and not its enforcement as a claim to enforce does not belong in the Labour Court.    

Furthermore, the National Office Bearers [NOBs] of the national union will arrange an urgent meeting with the leadership of the African National Congress [ANC] to inform them about the organizational implications for the non-payment of salaries increases to public servants as per Resolution 1 of 2018 which might force us to consider other options due to the way our members and workers have been treated by the ANC government. Moreover, NEHAWU will share its fact-finding mission report regarding the state of hospitals in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Update on different meetings with Ministers

1.   Department of Health

A meeting was convened between the leadership of NEHAWU and the department on the 13th August 2020 to discuss the outcomes of the fact-finding mission report. After discussions it was agreed that a Joint Task Team led by the NDOH Director General, Dr. Sandile Buthelezi and NEHAWU General Secretary, Cde. Zola Saphetha would be established to work on the issues arising from the report and revert to the broader meeting comprised of the Minister and NEHAWU President. The identified issues to be dealt with by this Joint Task Team are the following:

- The lack of adequate provision of PPEs

- Lack of compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

- Poor adherence to the National Core Standards and guidelines issued by NDOH Shortage of Staff

- Authoritarian and broken Management System

- Dysfunctional District Health System

- The decentralised response to the epidemic.

On the 25 August 2020, the Joint Task Team led by the GS and DG met and agreed on the urgent need for:

- A verification mechanism on the implementation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the regulations, i.e. the Consolidated Directions on Health and Safety in the Workplace that was gazetted by the Department of Employment and Labour on 4 June 2020. It was agreed that the National Institute on Occupation Health (NIOH) must be enlisted to carry out this task.

- A template to audit the availability, access and use of the Protective Personal Equipment (PPEs) at the institutional level in provinces.

Subsequent to this Joint Task Team meeting, the officials of the department and the union developed the template and Terms of Reference of the verification mechanism on the implementation of the health and safety measures, which were to be handed to NIOH. On the 10th September 2020, the Joint Task Team met again and the meeting received progress reports on the verification mechanism and an update on the PPEs stocks.

The NIOH which has been commissioned as per the agreement of the Joint Task Team made a presentation on the survey that would be conducted to undertake the verification. The survey is entitled: The Verification of Occupational Health Services and Committees in Public and Private Health Facilities in South Africa. The objectives of the survey are:

- To look at the extent to which there is compliance at the institutional level with the OHS Act and the Consolidated Directions on Health and Safety in the Workplace. This include issues such as the establishment of the OHS Committees and their functioning, as well as the question of the availability, access and use of the PPEs at the institutional level.

- To provide recommendations to the national and provincial departments of health, private health employers as well as NEHAWU and other unions.

- Out of the total 3961 public and private health institutions in South Africa, the survey is going to cover 722 institutions, including all the 9 Central Hospitals, 18 Tertiary hospitals, 48 Secondary Hospitals, 8 NDOH offices and 9 PDOH offices. The survey would then be randomised in covering 53 District Offices, 153 District Hospitals, 346 Community Health Centres and 78 Private Hospitals.

- The survey shall use both qualitative and quantitative methods and it is going to be evidence based.

- The sampling shall be a mixed method, i.e. stratified random sampling based on proportions with nested convenience sampling (of the problematic facilities). In other words, in addition to the compulsory survey on all the central, tertiary, secondary hospitals and departmental offices, the rest of the institutions shall be randomly chosen.

- The duration of the survey begins in September until the 16 December 2020.

The meeting agreed that the department and NEHAWU can submit additional hospitals and other health institutions to be covered in the study and that NIOH shall circulate the questionnaire of the survey for consideration by NEHAWU.

The department presented an update on the available stock of PPEs in provinces at the moment, using their electronic stock visibility system. The meeting agreed that further interrogation on the actual use of the stock at the institutional level shall be done through the questionnaire of the survey.

On the Project Management Office it was agreed that NEHAWU shall participate and forward the name of a representative. Moreover, the DG also gave a briefing on the project established by the Minister, along the lines of the NEHAWU Fact-Finding mission. He indicated that work is underway, which involves the ongoing liaison with the Public Protector. The DG further reported that the preliminary report on George Mkhari Hospital reveal even worse findings than those in the NEHAWU Fact-Finding report.

2.   Social Development

The national union has met twice with the Minister of Social Development, Minister Ms Lindiwe Zulu and the last meeting was on the 20th August 2020. Following robust submissions from the union, the meeting therefore agreed on the following:

- The NOB’s should urgently meet with Minister separate from the department for the purpose of bringing into context her role politically as an Executive Authority of the department.

- The meeting between the SASSA CEO and the Secretariat to be reconvened within 4 days to address issues emanating from the outcomes of the previous meeting, following which the CEO is to report to the Minister within 5 days on the outcomes of the reconvened meeting.

- That there must be a meeting of a team led by the General Secretary of the union and the Acting Director General of the department to map out the process of dealing with the outstanding matters of the settlement agreement and the concerns raised on covid-19. The settlement agreement to be used as a guiding document in the process.

A meeting did take place between the General Secretary and the acting DG and discussed the following issues:

- Absorption of Social Work Graduates

- Insourcing of Secure Care Services

- Ring- Fencing of Funding of Conditions of Service

- Provision of Working Tools

- Review of OSD and Payment of Rural Allowance

In responding to these issues and as per the presentation of the department the meeting resolved as follows:

- The department to provide feedback regarding the Absorption of Social Work Graduates which will encompass a report that indicates status of engagements with other sector departments and NSFAS by 1st week of October 2020.

- The parties agreed that all workers employed in the Secure Care Centers formally under BOSASSA must be absorbed by the DSD in line with the settlement agreement signed in 2017. In this regard, the Task Team inclusive of provinces on insourcing of Secure Care Centers is resuscitated with immediate effect and shall meet on the 17th September 2020 to take forward this work.

- The Acting Director General is to engage with the Head of Department of North West on the status of Mafikeng Secure Center workers.

- The same Task Team will also focus on the ring- fencing of Funding for Conditions of Service for NPO’s and address transformation of the NPO sector. The NEHAWU team will include the Policy Development Unit as part of the delegation.

- The Department at the level of provinces will urgently and within the next 7 days request the convening of the provincial chambers to table reports on provision of working tools in provinces. In this regard, NEHAWU provincial offices have been directed to write letters to all secretaries of provincial chambers in order to provide them with a detail report on the provision of tools of trade to social workers by the department of social development.

- Chief Negotiators from both NEHAWU and DSD should ensure that the Special Chambers meetings are scheduled within 7 days.

- The department on the 16th October 2020 will revert back with the report on the feedback on engagements with National Treasury and DPSA in relation to the Payment of Rural Allowance and Review of OSD for Social Service Professionals.

3.   SASSA management

The union led by the General Secretary met with SASSA management led by the CEO on the 01st September 2020. The meeting discussed the Business Process Re-engineering, compliance with Occupational Health and Safety, staff members infected with coronavirus and the re-Introduction of the Disability Grants (DGs)

The meeting agreed on the following:

- A follow-up meeting will be scheduled urgently to discuss the Business Re-Engineering Process in detail and further no process should unfold without consultation with the union in this regard.

- All issues related to Compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Committees shall be dealt with by the National Covid-19 Committee which amongst others shall receive and consolidate reports on Provision of PPE’s, Monitor the compliance in relation to establishment of Regional OHS Committees and other COVID-19 related matters. Both the General Secretary of the Union and SASSA CEO will address this meeting of the National COVID-19 Committee and guide them on the matter.

- Parties agreed to schedule an urgent meeting to discuss the Re-Opening of Disability Grant Services in detail.

4.   Employment and Labour

A meeting with the Minister of Employment and Labour who brought together a delegation from the department led by the Director General to discuss compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a custodian for enforcement and monitoring including issues pertaining to conditions of service in the department.

After our presentation the department responded in a way that was disappointing on all issues including telling us that they can never be in all workplaces because of the capacity and shortage of personnel as it relates to inspectors. We further raised our disappointment with the department regarding their failure to respond to our complaints lodged against many hospitals which were not complying with OHS Act.

After serious discussion the meeting agreed on the establishment of a team led by the General Secretary of the union and the Director General of the department which will work through these issues by either resolving them or elevate when a need arises to the level of the national office bearers and the Minister. Unfortunately, scheduled meetings were kept postponed for different reasons but recently agreed that it will take place sometime this week.

5.    Public Service and Administration

A meeting between the Minister of Public Service and Administration and the national office bearers took place but really there is nothing to report about as the meeting yielded no results. However, a second meeting took place between the General Secretary and the Minister who indicated that an urgent meeting with President three Ministers of Public Service and Administration, Health and Employment and Labour would take place either Monday, the 14th or 15th September 20220 and indeed such a meeting is confirmed for Tuesday, the 15th September 2020 at 17h00 to attend to the demands captured in our submitted memorandum.

6.   Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology

A meeting between the General Secretary and the Minister took place to discuss the extension of NSFAS Administrator and appointment of the Board, Outstanding TVET Settlement Agreement and plight of SETAs including the un-readiness of universities for return back to work. In this meeting, only matters related to NSFAS were discussed and it was agreed that outstanding matters would be discussed in the next meeting to be convened sometime this week. As a result, the General Secretary accompanied by the WC Provincial Secretary and Ikapa South Regional Secretary will be meeting the branch executive committee at 12:00 today to be appraised about issues of unhappiness and elevate them to the level of the Minister for solutions as it is clear that there is nothing to discuss with the administrator as the real problem at the institution is him.

The national union will deploy its national and provincial office bearers in provinces and regions to stay for about 4 days supporting and reinforcing the mobilization of members and workers for a blown strike if there is nothing favourable to members and workers in general coming out of these meetings mentioned above. The union is convinced more than ever before that its national programme of action is worthy to be pursued or to fight for hence the national union is even ready to hold a bull by its horns and more than prepared to sleep with the hyena as workers of this country, public servants in particular deserve far better than what they are getting and treated.

Issued by Khaya Xaba, National Spokesperson, NEHAWU, 14 September 2020