All government departments must have plans in place for employees to return to work at different levels of the Covid-19 lockdown while adhering to health precautions, said Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu in a briefing on Friday.
An increasing amount of public services are expected to be offered at each lower stage of Covid-19 alertness and Mchunu said departments of government, the country’s biggest employer, must identify how many staff are required to return while trying to adhere to health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The current position we find ourselves in will test the capability of the state to the maximum. We are hard at work doing an overall interrogation of the current capabilities of the state in a number of areas to assess, adjust and adapt our operations for the future to deliver optimal services during this pandemic,” said Mchunu.
Before departments open workplaces, they will be required to sanitise offices, provide temperature screening, ensure all employees wear masks, provide hand sanitiser and limit visits from non-employees.
“It is now more than ever necessary to recognise this higher calling of being a public servant, premised on patriotism and the urge to go above and beyond for fellow South Africans requiring such public services,” said Mchunu.
“This is not the time for opportunistic corrupt activities or plundering and pillaging of state resources. Public servants must rise to the mammoth task before them to be the public service that the Constitution dictates we should be.”
The minister said the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) remains “a concern in some areas” and departments need to contact the department of health to arrange the necessary gear.
Unions have warned that many employees are being forced to return to work before employers have implemented health precautions or provided them with PPEs. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday that 511 health workers had tested positive for Covid-19.
“We take this opportunity to honour all public servants in the country, especially those who are not working from home but are occupying the frontlines and support, we also take this opportunity to honour the heroes and heroines, who in the course of their duties passed on,” said Mchunu.
Trade union federation Cosatu has called on Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi to issue a ministerial direction allowing all workers the right to refuse to go to work without punishment if an employer hasn’t taken sufficient precautions to protect them from contracting coronavirus.
“We cannot allow exploitative and indifferent employers to abuse the power relations at work by forcing workers to work under unsafe conditions. Workers must now be empowered to defend their lives with the full protection of the law,” said Cosatu on Thursday.
Mchunu said government employees are still encouraged to work from home where possible and departments need to provide them with the equipment to do their work, such as laptops.
He said directors-general and department heads must ensure “that employees with co-morbidities or underlying illnesses, as far as is possible, remain at home or/and work remotely until the pandemic has passed as they remain vulnerable to contracting the virus”.
While government employees will be required to return to work in staggered stages, the dispute over pay increases continues.
Most public employees expected a pay increase of around 5% to be implemented on 1 April 2020 but, due to a plan to drastically cut the public wage bill, the government reneged on a 2018 agreement and said it would not offer any pay increases in 2020.
“This particular issue is sensitive as it is is now under dispute,” said Mchunu, referring to the dispute declared in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.
“Organised labour has declared a dispute and as such, this matter is sub judice meaning it is at a stage where we are not at liberty to give details on what is happening.” DM
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