Workers from the national Health and Public Works Departments are refusing to report for duty at the Civitas Building, saying the building is only 21% compliant with safety regulations.
Eyewitness News reports that the employees are now working outside on the corners of Andries and Struben Streets, while the court decides on the matter.
“The department said employees must work until 1 pm as if they know the building will collapse after 1 pm. It doesn’t make sense,” Public Servants Association (PSA) deputy GM Tahir Maepa says.
Meanwhile, the PSA will have to wait for about another two weeks before it can make its argument on the safety of a government building before a court, reports Eyewitness News.
The union has taken the two departments to court over the lack of safety compliance at the Civitas building. However, the report says, the court has added a twist to the matter as the parties have been asked to motivate whether this case is the jurisdiction of the Labour Court.
Maepa says they are happy to make their submission before the court next month. “We are confident that the Labour Court has jurisdiction to hear the matter because this matter has to do with the interest of workers.”
It was reported earlier that effort to avoid the legal battle, the Health Department sent a request to settle the matter out of court and the PSA’s Reuben Maleka said they responded to the department, agreeing to settle the matter but only if the department accepted “on our terms”.
Health-e News reports that these terms included forming a task team composed of management and workers to “ensure that the building is repaired and is habitable”, to reverse sick leave of workers whose health was affected by the poor state of Civitas and reduced working hours (from 7.30am to 1pm) to make time for repair work.
But upon receiving these terms the Health Department promptly backtracked on their settlement offer and decided to rather face the PSA in the Johannesburg Labour Court, according department spokesperson Popo Maja. “The Ministry of Health will fully abide by the decision of the court,” he said.
The report says there has been on and off strike action at Civitas since April with workers protesting against the deplorable conditions of the building, that has been referred to as a “death trap”. The PSA’s court application was lodged days after the deadly fire at the Bank of Lisbon building in Johannesburg on 5 September in which three firefighters lost their lives. The Bank of Lisbon housed the provincial health department and the PSA said that they are determined to fight for the rights of workers to prevent a similar tragedy at Civitas.
“We still maintain our members should not go to that building, they cannot be compelled, it’s not safe and they cannot risk their lives. We would not even encourage general members of the public to do the same. Our logical conclusion is that what happened at the Bank of Lisbon should be a lesson and not be allowed to happen again,” said Maepa.
The report says the strike action has severely affected the running of the Health Department and other health bodies including the South African Health Products Regulatory Council which moved its operations out of the building weeks ago to be able to fulfil its “lifesaving” mandate policing the country’s medicines.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union has also initiated legal action against the department and said they would file an interdict to prevent the Health Department from instituting the no-work-no-pay rule. Rejecting this rule was also on the list of the PSA’s demands as well as footing the legal bill.
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa’s Lebohang Khumalo said that workers should not be penalised for refusing to go to work because the health hazards “are not their doing but the department’s”. The report says she asked how the Health Department will manage the imminent National Health Insurance (NHI), and its sizable Fund, if “they cannot fix the conditions of the head office building”.
“(Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s) remarks on NHI have been nothing but just a rhetoric song. By failing to fix the building, this clearly shows he cannot be trusted to deliver NHI,” she said.
But, the report says, Maja rejected this claim and said the NHI and the Civitas building “are two different things”. He said: “They can’t be compared. They are completely unrelated. One is the system and the other is just the building. People opposing to NHI will always find a reason to associate it with negative things and discredit it.”
[link url="https://ewn.co.za/2018/09/24/psa-members-to-continue-demonstrating-outside-unsafe-govt-building"]Eyewitness News report[/link]
[link url="https://ewn.co.za/2018/09/22/psa-confident-labour-court-has-jurisdiction-to-hear-its-matter"]Eyewitness News report[/link]
[link url="https://www.health-e.org.za/2018/09/21/government-to-battle-union-in-court-over-death-trap-building/"]Health-e News report[/link]