Union cautions on return to work at Makana

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The South African Municipal Workers Union says Municipality staff will return to work only once they are satisfied that there are sufficient Covid-19 safety protocols in place. This comes as Makana announced today that its offices will re-open from 1 July.

“We won’t allow any worker to return until a risk assessment plan is in place,” SAMWU Secretary for the Pinkie Ntsangana (Sarah Baartman) Region Wandile Duruwe told Grocott’s Mail. Duruwe said the plan should be as per the terms set out in the 4 June Government Gazette (see below) and entailed consultation with trade unions and the health and safety committee, among others.

In a statement today, Makana Municipality said there were four confirmed Covid-19 cases from the Water and Sanitation Department and one suspected case from the Cleansing Department. This had  led to the interruption of basic services including water supply and refuse collection across the municipality.

“On discovering these cases, workers from both sections stopped working, fearing for infections,” spokesperson Yoliswa Ramokolo said.

“All the affected work stations had to be vacated for deep cleaning and decontamination, all vehicles also had to be decontaminated. The municipality is currently in a process of deep cleaning and fumigating all its offices with some, including the City Hall, completed. Only a few are now left and will be completed soon.”

However, Duruwe said the decontamination needed to have been carried out by an accredited company. “The person sent to do fumigation was not even wearing protective clothing,” he said.

Duruwe said additionally, the union demanded that an inspection is subsequently carried out by a qualified health and safety officer (Department of Employment and Labour or Department or Department of Health) and that a danger allowance payment is agreed on as per the SA Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC).

The Department of Public Service and Administration’s national guidelines stipulate that public servants in high-risk jobs should get a standard danger allowance of R474 a month, or a special monthly danger allowance of R709. This is normally for occupations such as traffic inspectors, prison guards, as well as social workers, nurses, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health workers working with prisoners.

However, in May, the Bargaining Council advised South Africa’s 257 municipalities to negotiate with SAMWU and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (Imatu) over danger allowances for frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement issued last week, SAMWU’s national Secretariat said the union’s demand was for a once-off ex gratia payment of R3000.

“We are well aware of the fact that workers have already returned to work and that most of the lockdown regulations are continually being lowered,” SAMWU’s Secretariat said. “Our approach is that even if the President decides that the lockdown is over tomorrow, workers who were in the frontlines are owed by the employer and that money should be paid over to them once an agreement is reached.”

SAMWU has more than 515 members at Makana Municipality and Imatu around 100.

In today’s statement, Makana Municipality said all essential services would resume this week “especially refuse collection”. Plans had been put in place for the water treatment works and  Process Controllers from Alicedale were assisting at both plants.

“An internal memo has been sent to managers and supervisors of the affected departments to call back all their staff so that work can resume normally,” said Ramokolo.

The decision to re-open all municipal offices with limited staff on 1 July was taken in an extended management meeting yesterday.

“A Workplace Safety Plan is in place that will give guidance to all the returning workers,” Ramokolo said. “A Covid -19 Committee has been established with the Coordinator that will ensure that all processes are followed [and]all the required PPE is sufficient… before allowing workers back.”

The Committee would be continually convened throughout the pandemic period.

The return to work would also see the implementation of identified projects and the continuation of those suspended under the lockdown.

In response to questions from Grocott’s Mail, Ramokolo said a total of 87 water and sanitation workers and cleansing staff are currently on self isolation. The Municipality had drafted the danger allowance policy and this was still under discussion.

The fumigation of the municipal offices had been done by an accredited server provider, Ramokolo said.

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