'No PPE, no work': Zweli Mkhize on safety of front-line workers

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has reiterated the call for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers, saying no-one should risk their lives and work without it during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has reiterated the call for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers, saying no-one should risk their lives and work without it during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Image: REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has reiterated the call for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers, saying no-one should risk their lives and work without it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He expressed these sentiments after the department’s meeting with six major worker unions at the weekend. Unions raised a variety of issues, from the occupational safety of health-care workers and infrastructure to remuneration issues that have caused great tensions in the workplace.

Five months into the pandemic, the availability of PPE remains a concern.

“It should be clear to all that the primary protection of health workers is a matter on which we will all agree with no exception. Our approach must therefore be to support the simple ethos: no PPE no work.

“We believe that this should motivate management and labour to ensure there is not a situation where someone declines to work. It is unfair to put any worker in such an invidious position,” said spokesperson Dr Lwazi Manzi.

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Nine issues were identified as needing urgent attention, according to the department. These included the relationship between the health department and unions, occupational health, psychosocial support, monitoring of PPE, human resources, infrastructure, transport and catering, risk allowances and inclusivity in decision-making processes.

On the risk grievance raised by some unions, Mkhize’s department said it was being looked at: “Due to the cross-cutting nature of negotiating remuneration dispensation, the various ministers have been engaged in that regard and the department remains guided by the appropriate processes and existing bargaining structures. The unions are assured that this is receiving urgent attention and monitoring.”

After the meeting, Mkhize ordered MECs from all provinces to conclude and present a report within 10 days on their compliance with occupational health and safety protocols.

The meeting also resolved that unions would be involved as observers in the minister’s undertakings at facilities.

“We do want a new culture — a culture of openness and determination to resolve issues for the dignity and respect of health-care workers, securing their health and wellbeing.

“We have all been in the trenches, trying to resolve problems. There may have been misunderstanding and tensions, but ultimately we all want to protect our workers and therefore we all need to find mechanisms to do so,” said Mkhize

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