OPINION

Covid-19: Frontline public services not prepared – NEHAWU

Union desperately concerned for the health and well-being of the public service workers

NEHAWU’s response to the guidelines on the management of Covid-19 in the public service 

23 March 2020

South Africa is already struggling with its widely known heavy burden of disease. The disgraceful perpetuation of the maldistribution of financial resources and clinical personnel between the public and private health sectors has guaranteed the country’s poor progress in dealing with its vast rates of morbidity and mortality. The scourge of the HIV/AIDS was allowed to take a firm grip on the population by government’s dogmatic adherence to the logic of Neoliberalism that treats health spending as consumption. Thus, millions of people who were deprived of medicine and treatment were decimated, before sanity prevailed.

Neoliberalism has returned with a vengeance since the fifth democratic dispensation in 2014, freezing vital vacancies and reducing departmental budgets in the frontline public services despite a growing population whilst sponsoring the disgraceful governance failures and corruption that engulf the State Own Enterprises (SOEs). In the latest report of the Auditor General (2018/19) none of the SOEs had clean audits and yet the Treasury continues to divert scarce resources from the public service (increasingly borrowed money at rising interest) to give to these Executives and Boards, with no positive results in sight.

The country is now facing the spread of the novel Coronavirus at a time when our frontline public services are least prepared. The public service as the largest employer in the country bears considerable responsibility and is mandated to ensure uninterrupted delivery of vital public services, especially to the working class and poor who are totally depended on it.

The national union is very concerned that despite the declaration of a State of Disaster, all the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) could come up with are mere guidelines to departments, (GUIDELINES ON THE MANAGEMENT OF THE CORONA VIRUS (COVID-19) IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE). There is no funded and mandatory roll-out plan for which all departments, public entities and provinces must comply and there is no clearly stipulated and scheduled implementation plan commandeered nationally. Accordingly, the DPSA merely asks departments:

-       To comply with the Occupation Health and Safety Act.

-       To find their own funds, through “budget reprioritisation” from their already reduced budgets “to procure sufficient hand sanitisers, soap, gloves, masks, tissues and if possible temperature scanners for use to monitor employee’s possible exposure in terms of the COVID-19 symptoms.”

Thus, at the moment it is up to the provinces to follow these guidelines and so far since the entry of the coronavirus in South Africa on the 5th March 2020, the necessary personnel protective equipment (PPEs) have not materialised in the frontline public service workplace. This has caused anxiety and distress amongst workers, especially the critical frontline public services. As NEHAWU, we are now desperately concerned for the health and wellbeing of the public service workers, especially the directly exposed nurses, morgue workers, emergency medical technicians, doctors, community care workers, dentists, community health workers, paramedics, laboratory personnel, and others.

NEHAWU agrees with the World Health Organisation that “countries cannot simply lockdown their societies to defeat coronavirus” and therefore, we call on the DPSA to attend to the following:

-       To revert to the PSCBC to engage with labour in working out a comprehensive public sector coronavirus/COVID-19 response plan.

-       This plan must be centrally funded and its implementation must be led by the national government in line with Section 26 of the 2002 Disaster Management Act.

-       All province must engage organised labour on the precautionary or preventative measures and undertake proper training in workplaces.

-       All workers, including the domestic and informal workers, regardless as to whether they were infected at the workplace or elsewhere must be covered under COIDA in order to avoid the public health sector being over-run.

-       To immediately procure the Cuban Interferon Alpha 2B, which has proven to be effective in the fight against the COVID-19 condition in other countries.

-       To immediately embark on the stocking up of ventilators and other therapeutic necessities under quarantine settings.

-       To immediately embark on a sustainable stocking up pipeline of the PPEs for the community health and care workers to ensure their sustained provision of service in the vulnerable communities.

Issued by Khaya Xaba, NEHAWU Secretariat, 23 March 2020