The Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC) representing 22 major federations in 14 of the 16 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Member States with a combined membership of more than 5.8 million working men and women, extends solidarity and sympathy to the workers and entire population around the globe who are facing a huge health risk because of the COVID-19 outbreak which now records a large number of cases and deaths.
This COVID-19 pandemic emerges at a time when most millions of workers in SADC region and beyond, do not have access to paid sick leave, and many do not access affordable quality health care. These are the people who face the greatest health and economic risks from the spread of the Coronavirus that is reported to be causing COVID-19 disease.
The grim reality is that if such workers become infected by COVID-19, they will in line with health requirements stay at home and self-isolate to protect fellow workers and communities. Yet for the millions of informal, contract and casual workers who would lose pay from this, or if employers deduct pay, how are they expected to settle their bills? Unless there is continuity of pay or some form of social protection for these circumstances, there is a risk that people will continue to work while ill for their and their families’ survival. This is a public health risk that cannot simply be put on the shoulders of the poorest workers.
Without a proper, detailed economic support package and social protection measures for the millions of workers who have no access to paid leave, there is not only going to be a negative economic impact on those workers but also a significant health risk to the broader community in as far as COVID-19 pandemic is concerned. Even for workers who have paid sick leave, the duration needs to accommodate the self-isolation period or any treatment period required, including for those likely to suffer more severe illness due to underlying health conditions.
As governments, workers and communities respond to the outbreak of COVID-19, SATUCC will together with its affiliate unions and workers in the region endeavor to play our role in promoting information, responsible public health practice and to provide community support to the most vulnerable in our communities. We further propose the following concrete measures to protect workers and families:
Mavis A. Koogotsitse
EXECUTIVE SECRETARY 16th March 2020, Gaborone, Botswana