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CWAO and COVID-19 Worker Rights

Press Release

15 June 2020

By dumping the language of "flattening the curve" and instead declaring a spike in infections "inevitable"”, the government has been able to justify the opening of the economy at the expense of the health of workers, school children and the working class more broadly. Now the country’s insufficient testing capacity is being used to justify new regulations that (a) force workers who have tested positive back into workplaces faster, and (b) remove the obligation on employers to send symptomatic workers for testing.

This simply means that workers are less likely to know when the virus is present in their workplace. It is a dangerous gamble that risks workers’ lives and only serves to protect the interests of capital.

On 4 June, the Minister of Employment and Labour signed a “Consolidated Covid-19 Direction on Health and Safety in the Workplace”. The Directive is meant to give effect to the Disaster Management Regulations by contributing to the “national strategies and policies to minimise the spread of Covid-19”. The stated purpose of the Directive is to “protect the health and safety of workers and members of the public”.

Unfortunately the government’s “national strategy” is based on an acceptance of the spread of the virus and has little to do with “minimising” it. In line with this, the new Directive puts workers at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and instead offers greater protection to the profits of the bosses.

The CWAO stands by the position that it took well before the lockdown where we argued that the state should commandeer the resources and capacities that exist in the private sector to ramp up testing in order to actually fight the virus. We reject the ideas of the government and their apologists that accept the spread of a deadly virus because of a supposed lack of resources.

To put it simply, a society that values lives over profit would not accept policies that send workers into factories in the middle of a pandemic, and definitely not ones that send them in blindly with no way of knowing when they are in danger.

We call on workers to refuse to work if they feel that the workplace is unsafe. The new Directive now confirms that workers do indeed have the right to refuse to work if they have “reasonable justification” that there is an “imminent and serious risk of their exposure to Covid-19”.

The Directive does not say that workers must have proof of a Covid outbreak in the workplace before refusing to work. This means that workers can refuse to work if the required health and safety measures, such as provision of adequate PPE and social distancing, have not been implemented.

CWAO has already come across positive Covid-19 cases at New Era (Germiston), Bakers (Isando), Dischem Distribution Centre (Midrand) where managements have kept crucial information about the outbreaks from their workers, forcing them to continue to work in dangerous conditions.

All workplaces with outbreaks must be shut down! Lives before profits!

For more information contact Lynford Dor (CWAO Media and Education)
074 891 0438


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