Trade union federation Cosatu has labelled those concerned about a planned strike by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) at the end of March as disingenuous.
“Those now raising concerns and speaking for workers are generally silent when it comes to workers’ plights. Workers are the most exposed,” said Cosatu general-secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali.
He added Cosatu supported the union’s “big fight” against the government over cuts to the public sector wage bill.
Nehawu decided on the strike after the government said at a special meeting of the public service coordinating bargaining council on Tuesday it would not increase the salary of workers on 1 April.
“The reneging by the government of the full implementation of the wage agreement constitutes a frontal attack on workers and their hard-won gains,” said Nehawu in a statement on Wednesday.
The union rejected the government’s proposed wage hike offer of CPI plus 0.5% for level one employees. For level 12 employees, for example, wages will only increase by CPI.
Ntshalintshali told News24 a strike did not necessarily institute marching.
“They speak of mobilising, it doesn’t spell out how or what they will do on that day,” he said.
“Cosatu will not expose members to the coronavirus. Whatever action, whether through a total stay away or coming in and doing sit-ins or even coming in for work and doing a go slow … action can be taken in different ways.”
On Wednesday, it was announced 116 South Africans have been affected by Covid-19 which has had devastating effects globally.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of national disaster for the country on Sunday, urging people to practice social distancing and prohibiting gatherings of large groups of people of more than 100.
Ntshalintshali accused people, like the DA’s Leon Schreiber, of not caring that workers were compromised in their day-to-day roles.
Schreiber said he would write to Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu, asking him to instruct the union to cancel the march.
“It’s clear that elements of the trade union movement in South Africa do not care about the well-being of workers or about the broader health and prosperity of our country,” Schreiber wrote in a statement.
Ntshalintshali said workers employed in departments like home affairs have to engage with numerous people in close proximity and assist with capturing their fingerprints, adding they were more vulnerable to the disease.
“They shouldn’t camouflage this and say they sympathise with workers,” he added.
However, Nehawu general-secretary Zola Saphetha denied the union was considering demonstrating differently.
“Truth of the matter is, we are going to march on the 30 March to Pretoria,” he told News24.
Saphetha said the march was a warning to the government that the union, which is Cosatu’s largest affiliate, could go on strike.
He added Nehawu had a meeting on Wednesday to discuss its own strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and the proposed march would fall within those guidelines.
“We can maybe have 99.9 people in groups walking apart from each other and this will happen with our 20,000 members.”
Saphetha said Nehawu members were exposed and vulnerable to the virus every day, adding it had also set money aside to fight the rise of the scourge.