Covid-19

FRONTLINE WORKERS

Metro cops want City of Cape Town to do more to protect officers

SAPS and Metro Police at a coronaviru lockdown roadblock in the Kenilworth area on 23 April in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Ziyaad Douglas)

The Department of Labour intends to subpoena City of Cape Town officials after an inspector received a hostile response while trying to assess the metro police facility in Cape Town.

David Esau, chief inspector at the Department of Labour and Employment, had to abandon a visit to Cape Town’s metro police premises on Tuesday, 5 May because of the alleged hostile reception he received.

In an email, Esau said: “I attempted to conduct a proper risk assessment exercise at your site in Cape Town but was treated with such hostility that I will be filing a charge of obstruction against the person who you send to represent to your office.” 

He added that he was also in the process of subpoenaing the official as well as the municipal manager to obtain a response to questions about the department’s Covid-19 risk assessment.

“Thirdly, I would request to visit your other sites as you are deemed as an employer in terms of the OHS Act of 1993 you are compelled to obey the laws,” Essau cautioned the City.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) in the Western Cape condemned the City for its apparent disregard of safety precautions in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. It said it believed the City was putting frontline workers in the safety and security department at risk

But City spokesperson Priya Reddy said officials from the Department of Labour had been allowed entry to the facility to do an inspection and risk assessment. 

However, some concerns had been expressed about due process and it was later agreed that the City’s Covid-19 compliance officer would meet officials from the Labour Department next week, Reddy added.

Saftu said in a statement that to date, approximately 24 employees in the safety and security sector had contracted the virus. According to provincial secretary Andre Adams, members affiliated to Demawusa had attempted to raise concerns with management.

“In a meeting with members, the deputy chief of metro police, Annalene Marais, instead of addressing the concerns of workers, intimidated staff and refused to answer any questions relating to the workers’ health and safety,” said Adams.

He said the deputy chief had suggested that these questions were union matters.

“The cold-hearted response or lack of response from management is best captured by the response of Marais to a question from a metro police officer who is a single parent asking what assistance the City would provide to her child if she should contract the virus,” Adams said.

Marais allegedly responded that the city would not provide assistance should she fall ill due to any other illness so why should it support her in this case.

Adams said this clearly demonstrated that the City did not view the pandemic “as being a crisis and can be equated to any other illness workers could contract”.

According to Saftu, some of the concerns and demands raised by officers included that no risk assessment plan had been developed with staff, that the offices of metro police had not been cleaned and sanitised daily, that officers had been ordered to bring their own disinfectant and bleach to sanitise patrol vehicles and that workplaces where infections had been detected had not been closed down.

This is why Saftu had called on the Department of Labour to conduct a site visit and to shut down metro police stations until compliance with health and safety regulations were met with by the City.

Speaking for the City, Reddy reiterated that protocols were in place to clean offices, workplaces and patrol vehicles and that testing for staff exposed to the coronavirus was available.

She said the situation surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic was “an evolving one” and the City was altering and adjusting its protocols and actions as required.

“We will continue to do so with the assistance of our employees who also have an active role to play in ensuring good hand hygiene, physical distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

She said the City was “doing its best to ensure that those who are rendering essential services have the necessary PPEs, that metro police facilities are closed and deep-cleansed and sanitised when a staff member tests positive for Covid-19, and that their colleagues are duly informed and required to self-isolate if they have had close contact and are symptomatic.” DM

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