Cape Town – The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has used its Human Rights Day statement to call on government to do more to protect the poor against the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak which has to date infected more than 200 people in the country.
To this end the union is demanding that government immediately implement the following measures which it says will cushion ordinary South Africans against the negative social impact which the virus will have :
1. Private hospitals must be nationalized and open to all
2. Testing and treatment for coronavirus must be free
3. Cut interest rates down to zero for the duration of the epidemic and create stimulus packages for the economy
4. A basic income grant must be made available for the poor
5. Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who have been placed on quarantine, or short-time/layoff because of the temporary shutdown of plants.
6. All home loan and rent payments including all debt repayments must be suspended until after the epidemic has been dealt with
7. Food parcels must be provided for all those on self-isolation or quarantine in townships and informal settlements
8. It must be mandatory for all companies to adhere to the World Health Organization standards of cleanliness in the workplace. Workers who are forced to work and who are exposed to the public, eg. garage workers, cashiers, waiters etc, all workers in the service industry must be provided with safety masks, sanitizers and gloves while on duty by the employer. This must be enforced with
severe penalties for those who fail to adhere.
Numsa says that while much has been said about steps to cushion small and medium sized businesses from the economic fallout of the outbreak and the subsequent declaration of a national disaster, government has
" Our government is only for the benefit of the elite, this is demonstrated by its reluctance to act swiftly to protect the working class and the poor against the ravages of this virus. Not enough concrete measures have been announced to cushion the working class and the poor from the financial impact of the virus," the union said.
"For example, a debt relief fund for SMME’s and Micro enterprises has been proposed by the Department of Small Business Development to protect small business owners, amid interruptions in productivity and loss of income, but there has been no mention of debt relief for individuals and families’ especially as most of them will have their income streams interrupted."
Numsa insisted that the 1% reduction in interest rates announced by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) this week was " not good enough" and called for SARB, which it accused of being out of touch with " the needs of our society" and "doing its utmost best to protect the value of white wealth" , to scrap inflation targeting.
The union further called for the nationalisation of hospitals and for private healthcare to be abolished entirely and for government to ensure that state hopitals were adequately staffed and stocked to cope with the pandemic..
"The Department of Economic Development said in its statement that it has published regulations that will allow “healthcare providers to coordinate their actions as part of Department of Health efforts, including the sharing of facilities and beds, medical supplies nurses and doctors between different companies and with government”. It is unclear if these services will be free to the public, and that is deeply concerning for us because the majority of the population is not on medical aid, and they will not be able to afford these services," the union said.