News / Covid-19

News24 Wire
Wire Service
3 minute read
14 Jun 2020
4:01 pm

Union vows to shut down Dis-Chem warehouse over Covid-19 cases

News24 Wire

The union says there have been 10 positive Covid-19 cases at Dis-Chem's warehouse.

Members of the National Union of Public Services and Allied Workers picket outside the DisChem Warehouse, 17 January 2018, in Midrand.The workers downed tools over unpaid December 2017 bonuses and unfair labour practices. Picture: Michel Bega (Note: this picture is for illustrative purposes only)

The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) has vowed to temporarily shut down a retail warehouse in Midrand, Gauteng, following multiple positive Covid-19 cases.

The union says there have been 10 positive Covid-19 cases at Dis-Chem’s warehouse, across a number of departments. According to Nupsaw Gauteng organiser Desmond Jeza, the retailer is still using a biometric access system at the property, which the union believes is not sufficiently sanitised.

He said the company had not carried out an adequate screening and tracing process to identify employees who had come into contact with the positive cases.

Demands

“This affects the entire community of Midrand, as many of the employees live in surrounding areas such as Tembisa and Ivory Park,” he added.

The union plans to picket at the warehouse on Monday, demanding that all workers be tested before the warehouse reopens, and that those who test positive are allowed to self-isolate at home with full pay.

The union is also calling on management to have the warehouse cleaned and disinfected.

In addition, the union claims workers are required to pay R500 for their own tests – a financial burden many staff cannot afford as some earn only R2 500 a month, Jeza said.

Jeza said the union had written to the Department of Labour on multiple occasions but had yet to receive a response.

He had also contacted the local police station and said they will be working together to investigate the matter.

Eight positive tests

Meanwhile, Dis-Chem “strongly refutes” the union’s allegations regarding the health and safety of its workers.

The company said eight of the 1 950 employees at its Midrand distribution centre tested positive for Covid-19 this week.

“Dis-Chem believes the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) is on a publicity drive to enlist members after a failed strike last year which saw their union membership dwindle to under 10 percent,” read a statement issued on Sunday.

Caryn Eliasov-Barker, HR director at Dis-Chem, said they have adhered to all requirements throughout the lockdown period across the entire company and have been commended by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases for the way in which the company handled staff and customer safety.

“The employee in question reported feeling unwell on Monday 8th June. The necessary screening and testing were conducted, and the employee was sent home to self-isolate while waiting for test results.

“All close contact colleagues were tested at the time. A positive diagnosis was received on Tuesday 9th June at 14:00 and immediate steps were taken to close the facility, which is one of two warehousing facilities on the Dis-Chem site in Midrand,” she said.

Jobs

Eliasov-Barker also said biometric systems were in use with sanitiser at all stations at entry points to the warehouse.

She said movement within the actual warehouse was not biometrically controlled at this stage.

Eliasov-Barker also said any staff member who wanted to be tested but who had no any symptoms nor been in direct contact with any infected person, had the option of having a test done like any other member of the public, but at a reduced cost.

She said a person can choose to go to a private facility at their rates because they would not qualify under the Solidarity Fund free testing programme or at a state facility if there are no symptoms.

“We take the safety and health of our staff extremely seriously and would never deviate from ensuring the working environment is safe.

“We wish to remind Nupsaw that no one has lost their job or had their pay reduced despite shortened hours, isolating where necessary or when in quarantine. So far, Nupsaw’s previous actions have destroyed jobs,” Eliasov-Barker said.

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