30 May 2023
As South Africans and workers across the world mark International Workers’ Day, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) commemorates this important day in the lives of workers with a heavy heart. Despite the painstaking efforts of workers in the various sectors where we organise, society continues to suffer many challenges which have befallen this beautiful nation as a result of incompetent political leaders and private industry captains. We celebrate the efforts of workers against a tragic backdrop of collapsing municipalities, shrinking wages, a weakening economy and the heightening of the triple crises that is unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Crime has also negatively affected the quality-of-life South Africans are entitled to enjoy as per the prescripts in the country’s constitution. Meanwhile, more and more workers and people, in general, are suffering from mental health illnesses due to these factors and many others, forcing us as a caring labour federation to take a step back and reflect on Safety and Wellness as Fundamental Rights in Workplaces.
Albeit the Occupational Health and Safety Act guarantees workers many protections, we have realised that many employers continue to exploit workers, putting their lives and health at risk as many are incapable of speaking up in fear of compromising their job security. However, even with this reality, FEDUSA wants to encourage workers to make use of the anonymous tip-off lines at the Employment and Labour Department to report employers who are incompliant with the OHS Act. The tragedy here is that while many are silent as they are exposed to hazardous materials and collapsing buildings in their places of work, they equally fall victim to these inhumane conditions that they should not be subjected to in the first place.
The government itself has been exposed for being among the leading contraveners of the OHS Act and other regulations set to guarantee the safety of workers. We have found it even more alarming that despite the recorded and well-researched data on the rise of mental health illnesses in the country and globally, more so after the Covid-19 pandemic, employers still turn a blind eye to this crisis. Many have resorted to paying lip service to this crisis instead of addressing the root cause, which mostly emanates from the very toxic workspaces employees are subjected to. Employers and managers continue to fail to distinguish between incapacity, poor performance, misconduct and disability in people suffering from depression among other mental health issues. Instead of addressing the illness and offering workers the necessary support, many resort to unfair dismissals, further clogging the overstretched CCMA and Labour Court system.
Just last year, the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation called for concrete action to address mental health concerns in the working population globally. This was on the back of research which indicated that an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy almost One Trillion US Dollars. The evidence is clear that the cost of not paying attention to health, safety and wellness in workplaces has far-reaching consequences on not only the lives of workers but also our economy and the overall well-being of South Africans in general. FEDUSA agrees with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on mental health at work which recommended several actions including addressing heavy workloads, negative behaviours and other factors that create distress at work. What is needed is comprehensive training of bosses and managers across the board on how to create healthy working environments.
The level of staff turnover in key industries in South Africa, including in the media sector is indicative of a crisis that ought to be tackled. Many workers choose to walk away from work they are passionate about in the interest of their health. As we commemorate Workers’ Day this year, FEDUSA calls on employers to introspect and change their ways.
It is also shameful that nearly 30 years into the country’s economy, workers continue to face deadly working conditions.
The fact that the country’s mining sector still must account yearly for fatalities in their operations speaks volumes about how little has changed. That teachers in rural settings, along with learners still must risk their health and lives using pit latrines is an abomination. The fact that the Employment and Labour Department’s inspectors still declare buildings “death traps” in the public and private sectors also speaks volumes about the commitment of employers to the wellness of workers.
FEDUSA and its affiliates commit to continuing its work aimed at advocating for the rights of workers regarding occupational health, safety and wellness. These are not just suggestions but fundamental rights in workplaces. We call on workers to find their voice and not allow fear to turn them mute in the face of this injustice because failure to act threatens their well-being. May South African workers and society at large use this year’s Worker’s Day commemorations to reflect on these injustices to revolt against it!
We wish all workers a peaceful and reflective May Day!
For media enquiries
063 736 5533
For interviews please contact:
Ms Riefdah Ajam
FEDUSA General Secretary
079 696 2625
Mr Ashley Benjamin
FEDUSA Deputy General Secretary
083 258 4433