The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and others will march to Union Buildings and other government offices on Thursday (3 September) as part of its ‘commitment’ to defend and protect its members and workers against Covid-19.

The national day of action will be in the form of demonstrations which will be directed to the Presidency at the Union Buildings, National Parliament and the nine offices of the Premiers in provinces. “Preparations are at advanced stage and we want to confirm our state of readiness for the success of the programme,” the union said as part of a joint statement on Monday (31 August).

“The outbreak of the coronavirus has given birth to a new breed of tenderprenuers called Covidpreneurs who have used the opportunity to loot state resources meant to procure PPEs (personal protective equipment) for frontline workers. Workers are losing their lives on a daily basis because of substandard PPEs that exposes them to the virus,” Nehawu said.

The collective unions want the government to centralise PPE procurement to root out corruption. This comes after several government officials were implicated in alleged corruption in deals relating to Covid-19, most notably the Gauteng Health Department, the eldest sons of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and the husband of Khusela Diko, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson.

The national day of action also aims to “stop the carnage of workers at the hands of reckless and intransigent employers”.

“Health and safety challenges have always been there, however, they have been exacerbated by the outbreak of the virus. Workers continue to be paid peanuts and also not getting bonuses while being overworked because of understaffing,” Nehawu and its partners said.

Nehawu’s membership base exceeds 240,000 people, making it the largest public-sector union in the country.

Additional parties set to take part on Thursday, include:

  • Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU);
  • South African Communist Party (SACP);
  • South African Students Congress (SASCO);
  • Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA);
  • South African Union of Students (SAUS); and
  • Congress of South African Students (COSAS).

The collective will give the government five days to respond to its demands. Salary increase is one of the key issues. “We call on government to implement a Risk allowance for frontline workers for the hard work and sacrifice of their lives and families during this fight against this invisible enemy,” the statement read. This include honouring the salary adjustments.

The issue of governmental wage increases is also likely to take centre stage in the coming months as restrictions around the coronavirus pandemic are eased.

Public wages are set through bargaining with unions and agreements stay in force for three years. The current agreement is in place until March 2021.

However, in February the government asked to review the last leg of a three-year pay agreement because it said it couldn’t afford it.

The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the country’s financial problems with unions and the government now set for a showdown.

National Treasury plans on cutting R160 billion from the public sector wage bill over the next three years – a position that has been met with opposition from public sector trade unions.

In the build-up to Thursday’s march, the parties will hold a National Day of Prayer on Tuesday (1 September) at various hospitals around the country.