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Union educates on COVID-19 as South Africa confirms more cases

19 March, 2020IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), is carrying out campaigns to educate workers about the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the textile, garment, leather and shoe factories, and other workplaces where the union organizes.

In the last two weeks, the union held COVID-19 awareness campaigns in the Western Cape, Durban, Johannesburg and Mpumalanga. Tests have so far confirmed 150 positive cases nationally.

South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, declared the COVID-19 pandemic “a national state of disaster” on 15 March, and announced a raft of measures to control its spread. These included flight bans and restrictions of visitors from countries with high COVID-19 cases, limitations on public gatherings to only 100 people, and school, border and ports closures. Other preventive measures are campaigns to frequently wash hands and other public health measures to halt COVID-19.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council – a social dialogue forum for labour, government, employers and communities – meeting recommended adoption of customized workplace responses to COVID-19.

Andre Kriel, SACTWU general secretary said:

“The union has issued a directive to its 2,800 shop stewards in the 1,500 workplaces where we are organized to immediately engage employers to formulate a customized response plan, specific to each workplace. Difficult as this may be, a response plan should include matters such as the managing of short-time, shift work, and changing working hours and lunch breaks to reduce many workers assembling in one place. We are implementing awareness training of workers on specific concrete prevention interventions. These include making available hand and industrial sanitizers, safety work wear, safe and hygienic clocking stations and canteen protocols, as well as reviving health and safety committees at workplaces.”

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary said a collective effort is needed to contain the COVID-19 global pandemic:

“As trade unionists, we want to actively contribute to slow down the spread of the virus, protect the most vulnerable groups and give time to the public health institutions worldwide to get ready, avoid being overwhelmed, and thus assist those most in need.”

SACTWU wants the customized workplace response plans to neither prejudice workers nor undermine national and collective bargaining agreements.

According to South African labour law, employers have an obligation to protect workers from the coronavirus disease. Failure to do so makes the employers liable to a breach of employment obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Further, if the employers fail to pay workers who they ask to stay away from work because of the coronavirus, they will be in breach of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

The awareness campaigns benefit from experiences gained from the union’s worker health programme that was developed to deal with the HIV-AIDS pandemic. The knowledge from the programme on prevention, treatment and support to workers, their families and communities is being used in the COVID-19 campaigns. The programme also included home-based care and emphasized peer education.