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NAPSAWU WANTS MEMBERS TO REMAIN AT HOME

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MANZINI - In what could be termed as defiance, NAPSAWU vows to invoke Section 18 (2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 9 of 2001.

The union said it would do this by removing its members from work because their lives were at risk. This was said by the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) Secretary General, Thulani Hlatshwako, following the Prime Minister (PM) Ambrose Dlamini’s statement that civil servants were expected to continue working. The PM said the Ministry of Public Service had already embarked on ensuring that necessary precautions were taken, such as avoiding overcrowding of offices and provision of hand sanitisers. The secretary general said this meant that government was putting civil servants’ lives at risk because they did not have personal protective equipment (PPE). “On that note, we will invoke the Act and remove our members from the risk of contracting the virus,” the secretary general said.

Remove

Section 18 (2) of the Act says; ‘An employee shall have a right to remove himself or herself from danger when such a worker has reasonable justification to believe there is imminent and serious risk to his/her safety and health’. It is worth noting that before the PM’s statement, NAPSAWU had called upon government to put all non-essential workers in both public and private sector on precautionary leave. On top of that, government, as the largest employer in the country, had been advised to allow civil servants, who are essential service providers to practise self-isolation if they felt unwell. The call is that the workers should be allowed to self-isolate themselves without being forced to fill in annual leave forms. NAPSAWU made this call to government in light of the spread of the coronavirus in the world, including Eswatini and it was contained in a statement that was issued by the secretary general early yesterday.

Declaration

The secretary general said as a union, they applauded the declaration of the national emergency by government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said this was because COVID-19 was a serious threat to mankind that had not been seen in recent times. “The spread of the virus is unprecedented and needs an unprecedented response,” Hlatshwako said.
In fact, he said government should be aware of Section 9 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2001. He said the onus to demonstrate that a workplace was safe, was squarely placed on the employer by the section of the  Act. In that note, the secretary general said the issue of self-isolation should be encouraged and should not be seen to be costly to the workers. On that regard, he said it was irresponsible of the Ministry of Public Service to be using General Order A801 to persuade workers to seek medical advice. He said the usage of annual leave for purposes of self-isolation demonstrated an insensitive employer who did not comprehend the issues at play during self-isolation. “Self-isolation cannot be related to annual leave,” he said.

Furthermore, he said the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Public Service, Sipho Tsabedze, should also be aware that as this was the end of year for government, almost all civil servants were expected to have exhausted their leave days. “This subsequently means civil servants have no annual leave days for self-isolation as is necessary after suspected exposure,” the secretary general said. On that note, Hlatshwako said as a union, they expected government to undertake proper assessment of the work environment and embark on a proper risk assessment by trained personnel.

Protective

Furthermore, he said government should prescribe situation specific protective gear. He said it should also provide the necessary sanitary products prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the spread of the virus in the workplace. “Government should also place all unnecessary and non-essential workers on precautionary leave, not annual leave, until the situation is stabilised or come with alternative methods of service delivery without placing the lives of the nation at risk,” the secretary general said in the statement.
On another note, he specified that the union had suspended its activities whose attendance would exceed 50 people as such would endanger the lives of members. He said this included the branch elections in Mbabane, Manzini and Siteki. On top of that, he encouraged their members to continue protecting themselves by observing the precautions through washing of hands regularly, maintaining social distancing of about a metre and avoiding touching their faces.

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