Coronavirus News Africa

Labour Court dismisses Nehawu’s application over lack of protective gear for frontline workers

An application by the country’s largest public sector union, Nehawu, to get national and provincial health departments to urgently supply its members with much-needed protective resources to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak has been dismissed with costs by the Labour Court. 

The case went ahead even though Nehawu had tried to withdraw the application with no tender of costs on 8 April.  

In her judgment that was issued on Saturday, Judge Benita Whitcher said she had decided to go ahead with the case after agreeing with respondents’ counsel that a determination on some of the trade union’s allegations was in the interest of justice. 

Whitcher ruled specific hospitals, identified by the applicant in the provinces, either had no shortage at all, and if they did, it did not warrant the application.

She said the issue could have been resolved by making the relevant inquiries or by placing additional orders or shifting resources from the hospitals which have more stock.

READ | Covid-19: Everyone in SA should wear a cloth mask in public, says Health Minister Zweli Mkhize

Witcher added many of the applicant’s claims were based on hearsay or were unsourced.

“The applicant has not come close to establishing its central contention that, at the time it launched its application, there was a shortage of PPE [personal protective equipment] at public health facilities warranting the relief it sought.

“It suffices to state that the respondents produced strong evidence that since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, they have engaged with the applicant and other trade unions on the issues raised by the applicant and intend to continue to do so.”

She said while it might appear at first glance Nehawu should have been exempt from a costs order as it had raised an important matter, it was shortsighted in the present circumstances. 

“Legal points aside, the applicant had a very poor factual basis to drag all 12 respondents to court.”

Whitcher added while Health Minister Zweli Mkhize had conceded in his affidavit things were not moving at an ideal pace, “the making of exaggerated claims based on speculation causes unnecessary stress and panic inside and outside the country as loose assumptions about South Africa’s readiness for Covid-19 can be made”.

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