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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Looting leading to PPE shortages on frontline – Cosatu

A fact-finding mission uncovered lack of adequate provision of PPE, chronic staff shortages, non-compliance with health and safety regulations, as well as victimisation of workers, in a dysfunctional district healthcare system.

Looting by service providers has led to inadequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers, as they fight the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has said.

Cosatu national spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, reacting to the finding by its biggest public sector affiliate, Nehawu, said there was inadequate supply of PPE at selected health facilities visited by the union countrywide.

The Nehawu fact-finding site visits were meant to check the working conditions of frontline workers and to look at the level of government compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS) and the provision of PPE.

Pamla said: “The looting by some service providers has led to inadequate supply of PPEs and sometimes the poor quality of those available. Many of these so called suppliers have no capacity but are only third parties who play the role of a middle man. This has wasted money unnecessarily.

“The inflationary costs of these PPE is sometimes caused by corruption. This has led to more money being spent to buy fewer PPE.”

The Nehawu report identified a lack of adequate provision of PPE, chronic staff shortages, non-compliance with the OHS as well as the OHS direction, victimisation of workers, and a dysfunctional district healthcare system. It painted a dire picture of an overburdened and an ill-equipped workforce that was constantly victimised for speaking out, while not getting the necessary support from the department.

“This is a disheartening report when across the country brave and dedicated health professionals are facing an extraordinary assignment of taking care of the nation to fight a deadly pandemic. These heroes and heroines are being badly let-down despite the assurances that have been made by the government,” Pamla said.

The lack of adequate protection, non-compliance with the OHSA and the victimisation of workers was completely outrageous.

“Cosatu encourages workers to exercise their legal right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions, all unions should work together to protect workers from victimisation,” he said.

He cited a recent statement by Labour and Employment Minister Thulas Nxesi that “employees had a right to refuse to work if they had a reasonable belief that necessary precautions have not been put in place to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.”

Pamla said it had been proven that the Covid-19 virus thrived in workplaces that generally limited the rights of workers, because they were disempowered to exercise their labour rights for fear of victimization and abuse by the employers.

“Noncompliance and the abuse of workers’ rights are the two biggest threats to the containment of the Covid-19 virus in the workplace and the fact that the department of health is amongst the culprits is unforgivable. The department of health report that shows that about 13, 174 healthcare workers have been infected with Covid-19, while 107 workers have lost their lives is a testament to this fact.

“Compliance with health and safety conditions and protocols in response to the virus is a matter of life and death and the lackadaisical attitude of the department of health is not only destroying the morale of these frontline workers but it has deadly consequences.”


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