The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has condemned the Eastern Cape Department of Public Works for housing the Department of Social Development in an unsafe building.
Nehawu said the department was moved to Beacon Hill Office Park, King Williamstown, in 2011, a poorly converted warehouse with no windows that open and no ventilation.
“Because of the lack of ventilation workers suffer from heat strokes and some have resigned to protect their lives. More than five workers have lost their lives due to breathing difficulties,” Nehawu said in a statement.
“The 1st floor is usually drenched in sewer if the toilets are flushed in the second floor which leaves a horrible smell and wet work spaces,” the union said.
Other problems include exposed electrical wiring as well as frequent blackouts that disrupt service delivery to clients.
“Currently, there are three reports that have proven that the building is non-compliant with Occupational Health and Safety [OHS] standards. The Department of Labour, NOSA and BCM have all issued certificates pointing out that the building is unsafe and not fit to house workers,” Nehawu said.
The union said that in 2011 its members refused to go into the building for three weeks and they were victimised.
Nehawu said the contract was renewed with the landlord on condition that building was renovated and water tanks, windows that open as well as a back-up generator were installed. “The contract signed with the landlord stated that these renovations were urgent and necessary but to our surprise three years later they have not been implemented,” Nehawu said.
“Our members and workers have not been working since 12 February because of an acid leakage in the building.”
Nehawu said the department’s response was to threaten its members and other workers, adding that lack of a proper and safe working space disadvantaged its clients.
It also complained that a workforce of 540 people had been accommodated in five buildings meant for 260 and that were not ready for occupation.
“As things stand, workers are accommodated at the Bisho youth and child care centre which is a prison for juveniles and poses safety risks to workers,” the union said.
The union also said that their lawyers were looking into possible corruption in the lease of the Beacon Hill building.
“The money recouped must be used to compensate workers for their medical bills. The department must also pay back the money deducted from workers during the 2011 stayaway because of the unsafe state of the building.
Nehawu also called on the provincial alliance partners to be mindful of these issues and the impact on service delivery to the working class and poor, who are the main voting base.
– African News Agency (ANA)