Saftu slams bosses for telling workers they’re ‘essential services’

General secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius

Some employers are also compelling their workers to take annual leave during the lockdown.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has condemned companies that force their workers to report for duty during the current lockdown by telling them they were essential services workers when they were not.

The federation said it was inundated with calls from workers that some employers are still forcing them to report, claiming to be essential services. “In the common cases, the employers are forcing workers to sign and sacrifice their annual leave for the 21 days lockdown declared by the president,” Zwelinzima Vavi, Saftu general secretary said yesterday.

“Saftu reiterate its unequivocal support of the measurers announced by the President to lockdown our country in a desperate attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It would be naïve on the part of anybody to think that all the employers will abide by the spirit of the regulations as demonstrated by the number of calls we are receiving from workers. It is in the nature of the capitalist system to be selfish, self-centred and greedy.”

Saftu’s statement follow one made by Cosatu and some of its affiliates claiming that some employers were compelling their workers to take annual leave during the lockdown.

The South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union said the private sector, particularly the hospitality and catering sector, had given short notices to lay off their staff. The financial sectors had not given clarity concerning the leave payment by its employees during the shutdown. Banking workers had been declared as essential service and therefore required to report for duty, but there is disagreement over their rights.

Saftu’s Vavi said: “Generally the private sector employers cut corners and side step worker protections accruing from the various pieces of labour legislation. Almost 50% of workers do not get regular annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, or the agreed to wages and conditions of employment. Disappointingly even in the face of the crisis of this magnitude, some employers are angling to cut corners!,” Vavi said.

Numsa said the Ekurhuleni-based AVENG Trident Steel allegedly forced 273 employees to take annual leave during the lockdown period. The Food and Allied Workers Union reported that Parktonian hotel in Braamfontein had refused to pay its workers during the lockdown.

According to the Giwusa Union, at Clover workers went on strike as they were not provided with protective clothing after they were told to work during the lockdown as essential services. At Rea Vaya rapid transit bus service, despite the fact that the firm did not provide essential services and its usual passengers would be off from Friday, its employees including interns had been told to report for duty during the lockdown. But Metrobus was told to reduce its service due to low passenger numbers and many of the municipal bus staff would not be able to go to work due to the lockdown.

Vavi said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budgetary austerity measures including a cut of R162 billion over the medium term and a R3.9 billion cut in the health budget could adversely affect the shutdown. Saftu was “extremely concerned that the chickens may come back home to roost during this crisis,” Vavi said.

“As we have seen the Minister of Defence deploying every military personnel to our communities, we want the Minister of Labour to deploy an equivalent of labour inspectors to every factory, farm and workplace like they did with the military,” Vavi said.

Vavi said Saftu-affiliated unions were reporting that there is lack of planning and coordination inside government. He said some of the frontline workers still do not have protective clothing, while others did not know how they would go to work from Friday as there were no clear plans, etc.

“SAFTU is also extremely concerned that the moral of the public sector workers is at its lowest as 01 April 2020 looms. On this day government is intending not to implement a wage agreement negotiated in the PSCBC in 2018. As a result every public servant including the front liners will see their conditions of employment and wages taking a dive of 4.5% which is the rate of inflation,” he said.

However, Saftu praised the “unparalleled determination” of all public sector workers who, despite being under attack from their employers, had decided to work for long hours under extremely challenging conditions for the sake of their fellow countrymen and women.

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