Nehawu takes government to court over healthcare workers' working conditions

The union says workers are being forced to work without protective equipment and sanitisers.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) will be appearing in court today against the Department of Health on the grounds that the government has failed to provide protective equipment and sanitisers to frontline health workers during the lockdown. The union says the decision to go to court came after efforts to engage with the health ministry failed. Nehawu's general secretary Zola Saphetham recently penned a letter to the health minister in which he wrote:

“It is with shock and great disappointment that Nehawu members as well as other workers alongside are to date still highly exposed to occupational risk in which they are forced to work without the necessary Personal Protective Equipment as per clause 4.4 of the Workplace Preparedness: Covid–19 Guidelines of the Department of Employment and Labour at different workplaces across the country. Kindly take notice further that the employer’s conduct of exposing our members to occupational risk to their health and lives as stated hereinabove is a direct violation of Section 8 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA), as well as the Guidelines and Regulations promulgated under the Disaster Management Act.”

Last week, EWN spoke to Nehawu's general secretary Zola Saphetham, who said they had tried all alternatives and saw legal action as their only remaining option.

“We have done everything at our disposal. We shave tried all the tricks in the book to see if we can get any help from the minister of health, unfortunately, to no avail. That’s why we have had to go to court. The issues that we have raised are not just concerns but also solutions,” he said.

Among union’s demands are that the Minister exercises his powers in terms of the OHSA to prohibit the performance of those duties that endangers and/or risk the health and safety of Nehawu members with immediate effect until there has been full compliance with the Act and the Department of Labour Regulations and Guidelines on Covid-19.