The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union on
Friday took legal action in a bid to force government to protect its members who are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

The union took the first steps in pursuit of a court interdict that would force government to provide enough equipment and supplies to health workers on the
frontline of South Africa’s fight against Covid-19.

Nehawu and its mother federation, the Congress of South
African Trade Unions, said it had emerged that there were not enough masks, gloves and sanitisers to go around during the period of the
lockdown, but healthcare workers at clinics were still expected to tend to patients.

The coronavirus has seen 1 462 confirmed cases and five
deaths in South Africa as of Thursday. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a 21-day lockdown at the end of March in a bid to prevent a spike in transmissions and infections which could cripple a public
healthcare system already battling multiple operational challenges.

The latest impasse also comes amid a protracted standoff between
public servants and the Department of Public Service and Administration on
whether government will honour a 2018 commitment to implement a CPI plus 1%
increase for general staff and a CPI plus 0.5% for managerial and director
positions.

Nehawu secretary general Zola Saphetha was on his way to the
police station to commission the interdict application when Fin24 called him
for comment. He said the union would know by the evening whether the
application would be granted the audience of a judge.

“We are taking government to court to comply with the law.
I’m on my way to the police station to commission the papers. After we have
done that, we will refer to our lawyers and wait to find out what happens with
our application,” said Saphetha.

Cosatu released a statement on Friday morning saying a shortage of protective gear for health workers during the lockdown was akin to a soldier going into a
gunfight “armed only with knives”. Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told Fin24
that government should broaden provisions to clinics and improve
standards.

“We have people who work in health facilities. They get there
and find that sanitisers are not enough to accommodate all of them. Some of
them go to those in specific wards. When you have admin and receptionists who
interact with patients, they must be protected,” said Pamla.

Pamla said supplies at healthcare facilities included sanitisers, masks and other protective items. He there were also problems relating to the delivery of goods apart from the under-supply of protective gear, such as the delivery of dirty linen.

Pamla also believes it does not make sense to centralise management during the crisis. 

“They [staff] are forced to continue with their work when the equipment
is not there…CEOs and managers
should be empowered to make decisions at a local level,” Pamla said.

Regarding the interdict, Pamla said Cosatu hoped it could
jolt government into action. He said South Africa could ill-afford having
health workers put at risk.

Speaking at an inter-ministerial briefing on Friday afternoon, deputy minister of health Joe Phaahla told South Africans that government would work to ensure a supply of medical equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers.

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