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MBABANE – A teacher at Nhlangano Central High School has decided to invoke the Occupational Safety and Health Act 2001 by ‘removing’ himself from the school as he deemed it unsafe to continue working there.

This piece of legislation allows an employee to withdraw from work in the event the environment is not safe or conducive. The teacher, *Musa, furnished the head teacher of the school with a notification of withdrawal from an ‘unsafe and unhealthy’ work environment on July 29, according to an impeccable source.
In the letter which is in this publication’s possession, Musa wrote that after careful consideration of the threat to his occupational safety and health, which were posed by circumstances, some of which bordered around what he described as ‘selective’ application of compliance with critical elements of the COVID-19 Regulations 2020, he decided to invoke this law.

He said: “In both letter and spirit, I have since preferred to remove myself from the premises of my duty station of record and in accordance with Section 18 (2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2001 (as amended).”

According to Musa in the letter, there were concerning developments including an increase in reportedly confirmed cases of COVID-19 with others in isolation among learners. His concern was that there were no attempts by the employer to establish possible causative factors for relevant collective mitigating action to be taken. He said the other reason for withdrawal was that all teachers were expected to remain on the premises of the school for the duration of a school day, whether or not having an assigned general duty or lesson on the day.

“Such arrangement precipitates unnecessary congestion of the environment and exacerbates the possibility of infection as it militates against the requirements of infection prevention and control,” he said. The fear and anxiety created by enforcing normal routine in an abnormal situation and to such extent as to employ unorthodox measures was another reason brought forth by the teacher for his withdrawal.
He alleged that there was failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of gloves for pupils to clean floors, in an environment that he said was already concerning.
“The employer has still not committed to providing reasonable recourse for employees with comorbidities like myself and as such, work environments like ours in its current state, remain a threat to life. I believe forcing employees to sign Absence From Duty forms even without affording them an opportunity to discuss possible arrangements or remedies in a forum that is not apprehensive, is wrong,” Musa said.
The notification, according to Musa, was effective from July 30, 2020 as he stated that he refused to believe that the employer would suffer unfair prejudice during the subsequent period of temporary absence.When Musa was called, he confirmed to have written the letter. He stated that he was not going to work and was hoping to hear from his employer as he also sent the same letter to the Shiselweni regional Educational Office. “I cannot say much as yet as the matter is still to be discussed by me and the employer but I did write the letter withdrawing myself from an unhealthy environment,” he said. When the school’s Head teacher Jabu Simelane, was called, she ended the call just after this reporter introduced herself and narrated what the call was about.
Meanwhile, Shiselweni Regional Education Officer (REO) Siboniso Gumbi confirmed to have received the letter and that he was yet to engage Musa before taking the letter to the Ministry of Education and Training. “I will have a meeting with him tomorrow (today) to discuss the letter and if he knew the consequences of his decision,” the REO said.
When asked what the consequences were, Gumbi said he did not know but: “usually, a person who did not work, did not get paid.”  He said the matter was not the first as another teacher from Nkwene had furnished his office with a private doctor’s note, stating that he had underlying conditions. He said the teacher was also not going to work and was also going to engage him.
Gumbi said he had not reported the matter to the principal secretary as he was yet to address it at regional level. 
President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Mbongwa Dlamini said they also received the letter from their member.
He said their Shiselweni office had been following developments at the school.
“The ministry (of Education and Training) should take note that teachers are worried about their health,” Dlamini said.
*Not real name

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