The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) welcomes the prescriptions announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Coronavirus (Covid-19). It is our view that the interventions will curb the spread of the Covid-19 depending on the nature of implementation. Declaring Covid-19 a national state disaster exposes the speed, spread and severity of the virus both domestically and globally.
Covid-19 is a global health crisis with devastating socio-economic effects on societies in general but the downtrodden in particular. Without entering into the realm of conspiracy theory, citizens must be enlightened on the geopolitical and global effects of the virus. Similar to the recent economic meltdown, the virus, on one hand, continues to falter the global stock market and reinforces existing structural inequalities on the other. Media reports have indicated that in areas worse affected by the virus, factories have temporarily been shut down. Consequently, productive relations and the labour market are most threatened by interruptions of this nature.
By juxtaposing various international cases with South African, we are reminded that the lowest income strata will be most compromised by Covid-19. Our political economy continues to prey on the vulnerabilities of the destitute Africans in general and African women in particular. We unequivocally condemn the private sector for treating the crisis as an opportunity to accumulate profit. The private healthcare sector for an example, charges a minimum of R1 200 to test individuals for Covid-19. On the contrary, government with limited resources must be commended for showing great leadership by prioritising its citizens.
Likewise, we call on all employers particularly those in the transport, security and cleaning sector to prioritise Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and COIDA (Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act) standards. Employers must not only intensify communication but provide employees accurate information on any developments regarding Covid-19. Workers must be regularly evaluated and be provided paid sick leaves including those that have exhausted their cycles. We further demand that all tools of trade be sterilised which also include alcohol testing kits.
We take note that the transport sector will be most affected by the interventions announced by the President. The measures will hinder the mobility of people and goods from one place to the other. The travel bans reveal a contradiction between the flow of capital versus the mobility of people. Taking into consideration the seriousness of Covid-19, government must strengthen border controls for monitoring purposes. The measures should not be misinterpreted or employed to restrict the mobility of people in the near future-blacks in general and Africans in particular.
SATAWU further encourages all role players in the road freight, road passenger, aviation, rail, maritime, taxi, security and cleaning sector to support the Ministry of Health and Transport in their endeavour to curb the spread of the virus. We urge the Minister of Transport-Fikile Mbalula- not to confine random screening to the taxi and passenger rail sector. The initiative should be extended to the transport industry in general.
At an organisational level, SATAWU will adhere to the directive of the President by suspending activities or gatherings of more than 100 people. However, we categorically place on record, that in an event that employers use Covid-19 to exploit or subject workers to animal-like conditions, the union will be left with no option but to negate this directive.
SATAWU upholds the view that in every crisis exists an opportunity. Government should strive to revitalise manufacturing industries crippled by large volumes of import goods. The recent ban on wildlife trade in China will assist in protecting endangered species. This will subsequently prevent a negative impact on the food chain/web thus curbing unintended consequences. It is not our space to declare Covid-19 a biochemically engineered virus. What we do know is that the virus has the potential to create national unity, strengthen social compacts, renegotiate trade agreements, revitalise manufacturing industries, accelerate the distribution of public goods to the downtrodden and protect the natural environment from further degradation.
– Jack Mazibuko, SATAWU General Secretary