The United National Transport Union (UNTU) has been receiving a great deal of questions from employees in the various divisions of Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) about their job that is deemed to be essential services for the 21 days of the lockdown.

On 15 March President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), a national disaster after the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified it as global pandemic.

This morning the latest figures from the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows that 709 South Africans have been infected with 302 in Gauteng, 131 in the Western Cape and 80 in KwaZulu-Natal.

An estimated 7.7 million of the South African population is infected with HIV/Aids with only 62% of them receiving treatment. About 60% of the patients in South Africa with Tuberculosis (TB) are also HIV-positive. COVID-19 causes severe pneumonia, which makes the South African population very vulnerable.

Against this background, Ramaphosa used the provisions of the Disaster Management Act which makes it the “primarily responsible” of the national executive for co-ordinating measures for the mitigation, prevention and recovery and rehabilitation from disaster.

A disaster is defined as a “natural or human-caused occurrence that causes disease, damage to property infrastructure or the environment or disruption of the life of a community”.

Section 26 of the Act allows Cabinet ministers to use existing legislation to deal with the disaster; health, immigration, transportation and other legislation allow ministerial directives.

A National State of Disaster lasts three months. However, the co-operative governance minister may cut it short at any time. A National State of Disaster may be extended one month at a time.

On 23 March 2020 President Ramaphosa announced that a nation-wide lockdown is necessary to fundamentally disrupt the chain of transmission of COVI-19 across society.

In his announcement he excluded several workers from the lock-down as they are deemed by Cabinet as necessary to respond to COVID-19.

The President in his speech excluded health workers in the public and private sectors, emergency personnel, those in security services (such as the police, traffic officers, military medical personnel, soldiers, private security guards), those involved in the production, distribution and supply of food and basic goods, essential banking services, the maintenance of power, water and telecommunications services, laboratory services, and those involved in the provision of medical and hygiene products.

Pharmacies, laboratories, banks, essential financial and payment services, including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, supermarkets, petrol stations and health care providers are excluded.

“Companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open,” said the President.

He stated that a full list of the categories of businesses that should remain open will be published. The various responsible Ministers are still in the process of determining this.

According to the President’s announcement provision will be made for essential transport services to continue, including transport for essential staff and for patients.

John Pereira, Acting General Secretary of UNTU, explains that this mean that even if your specific job have not been deemed to be an essential service in the past, in accordance with the provisions of the Act it might be included as an essential service during the national disaster.

“This is not for the various employers to decide, but are decisions made by Cabinet and enforced by regulations to handle this unique situation,” says Pereira.

UNTU appeals to our members to remain calm and to co-operate so that we as South African can flatten the curve of this deadly virus.

Issued on behalf of UNTU by Sonja Carstens, Deputy General-Secretary: Media, Liaison and Communication. For UNTU Press statements phone 082 463 6805 or e-mail sonja@untu.co.za

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