Alert Level 1: This is not the time to be complacent – NEHAWU

Union says the new variant continues to be brutal and easily transmittable

NEHAWU statement on government’s decision to move the country to Alert Level 1

1 March 2021

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the decision by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to move the country to Alert Level 1 of the COVID-19 lockdown as part of government’s Risk Adjusted Strategy.

The decision by government takes place just 5 days before the anniversary of the announcement of the first person to test positive for the coronavirus in the country on the 5th March 2020. Since then, more than 1 513 393 people have been infected while more than 49 993 South Africans have lost their lives to the virus. Many households have lost breadwinners and family members to death while many families have been subjected to a life of poverty by the effects of the pandemic on the economy and livelihoods.

We note the easing down of regulations and hope that it will not prompt our people to let their guards down. This is not a time to be complacent because the new variant continues to be brutal and easily transmittable. The extension of the hours for the sale of alcohol must not lead to trauma cases which will further put a strain our already overstretched healthcare system. With a third wave expected in the next three months our government must move with speed in preparing our healthcare system to cope with the workload. As NEHAWU, we will continue to monitor all healthcare facilities if they have sufficient stocks of quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), functioning health and safety committees and enough space for social distancing.

The national union continues to prioritise the health and safety of its members and workers, hence, from this morning its leadership will be visiting various institutions of higher learning across the country to assess their state of readiness for the reopening for the 2021 academic calendar. These visits form part of a broader campaign by NEHAWU to protect its members and workers against infection by COVD-19. NEHAWU will visit more workplaces in the next coming weeks to ensure that the health and safety of workers is guaranteed and that employers are not recklessly exposing our members to the virus.

We note the announcement that more than 67 000 frontline workers have been vaccinated, however, this is a small number considering that the first phase is supposed to vaccinate more than 1.5 million workers. In this regard, we call on the government to move with speed in procuring more vaccines and we reiterate our call for the consideration of vaccines from countries like Cuba, China and Russia. We believe that the expansion of the vaccination sites from 17 to 49 is still very minimal and more sites would have to be opened to expedite the vaccination process if we want to reach head immunity quickly. Furthermore, we will continue to monitor the roll-out programme to ensure its smooth running and ultimate success. We will continue to encourage our members and workers to take the vaccines for protection against the virus. Moreover, we call on all our people to continue to stay safe and practice non-pharmaceutical interventions like wearing a mask, social distancing and the washing of hands with soap for 20 seconds or using an alcohol based sanitizer.

For the umpteenth time, the President failed to address the burning issue facing our frontline workers and other public servants. Soon it will be over a year since frontline workers have been working without a danger allowance or a moral incentive including their salary increase which was due on the 1st April 2020. Just last week we warned government that it is delusional to assume that the current restrictive conditions under the Disaster Management Act will remain permanent and therefore, there shall be no resistance and fight-back from the public service workers to such draconian attacks on their livelihoods and conditions of service. President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister Tito Mboweni must brace themselves for a mother of all fights from our members and workers who have been subjected to a life of poverty because of their total disregard for binding collective bargaining agreements.

Issued by Khaya Xaba, National Spokesperson, NEHAWU, 1 March 2021