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Coronavirus pandemic brings hardship for many on Workers Day

South Africa's working class have been hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic and lockdown. Stock photo.
South Africa's working class have been hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic and lockdown. Stock photo.
Image: Pixabay/Free-Photos

For the first time in decades, the bulk of the working class in South Africa celebrated  Workers Day behind closed doors at home due to the coronavirus pandemic

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said in a statement its members were experiencing “extreme hardship” due to the impact of the lockdown enforced to try to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“Some workers have been forced to endure the lockdown with no money as ‘no work, no pay’ policies are implemented. Others have forcibly had leave days deducted, and some  others must prepare for mass retrenchments after the lockdown is lifted,"  the union said.

"At the same time, some employers are cutting corners on health and safety, demanding that workers return to work when they have done very little to prepare the workplace to prevent Covid-19 infections.”

Government measures to soften the economic blow, such as the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme (TERS) through the UIF, were not adequate enough to deal with the impact of the closure of businesses.

The union said: “The working class is literally trapped between a rock and a hard place, and the options are to die from hunger or die from Covid-19. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect the working class must endure a lockdown without the guarantee of an income.”

Numsa said members must be “uncompromising in our demands for a safe, sanitised workspace” and a living wage.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us it is the lowest paid workers, the ‘essential workers’, who are actually driving the battle against this virus. Nurses, cleaners, care workers, ambulance drivers, hospital technicians and others are all working tirelessly to defeat the virus, at great risk to their lives, and yet they are some of the lowest paid.”

The union said in its statement on Thursday it supported a stay away by some healthcare workers on Friday to protest about a lack of personal protective equipment.

"At least 1.5-million workers will be returning to work as the lockdown restrictions are partially lifted, and our government has still not done enough to protect healthcare workers.

"There remain drastic shortages of many essential items which nurses and healthcare workers need  to protect themselves. If our healthcare workers are not adequately protected it means the coronavirus will spread even further." 


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