“Honourable Chairperson, the recent ILO Conference resolved that Occupational Health and Safety be elevated to a fundamental principle and right.
Once again we face the limitations of inspection and enforcement in the field of health and safety.”
These were the 37 words of the newly appointed Minister of Employment and Labour, Mr Thulas Nxesi, on Occupational Health and Safety during his Budget speech.
The Budget speech, consisting of 1 914 words to be precise, was delivered on the 10th July 2019. Is this an indication of the importance of Occupational Health & Safety?
Reducing it to 14 words, it basically means “The ILO sees it as a right. We don’t have staff to enforce it.”
Why the focus on the word count? Because it represents a measly 1.9% of the time spent thereon and offers no solutions; only an excuse. Is the “fundamental principle and right” worth only 1,9% of the re-branded DOEL’s strategic vision? Is this a lesser right than jobs, skills and decent work? Decent unsafe work?
And here I thought a new broom sweeps clean. Instead, it follows the current trend of political correctness in keeping with campaign promises. Yes, our people need jobs, they need to be up-skilled, they need to be compensated if unemployed or injured. But what are the Minister offering to prevent unemployment and injury? It is nice to offer new jobs, new skills programs and new everything, while current jobs are threatened by unsafe working conditions and even a culture of registration schemes around every function, from property sales to safety officers. The more people want to create their own wealth, the more rules we create to prevent it.
Is it not better to have a job done half way by a so-called “fly-by-night” than to have no jobs done by fully registered persons? Is it not better to save tax payer R1.2 billion by scrapping the creators of red tape, like the CBE councils than to put that same amount at risk by investing in a sinking ship to save 140 000 current jobs? And did the ship not sink because of people’s inability to settle their debt in a downward spiraling economy, a risk that was foreseeable for many years, yet ignored in the hope that more credit will solve the problem? Why should reckless lending become a tax payer problem? Are we not straddling the cart before the horse?
I am asking, because from the outside, this picture hangs askew. We are bailing out private business who kicks people when they are down and out. We are creating new jobs while current workers die to create job openings; leaving their families to look to the UIF and COID for help.
And the media is not doing good work to expose non-compliance. They exposed the inability of the DoEL to enforce the law.
They are also not activists, but merely trying to survive in a highly competitive market by reporting on matters that appeal to readers and sell advertising space. What makes better headline news than the demise of another human being? Be it a farm murder, a road accident or a trash can in a public street with some perceived hot gossip in it; if it can sell, we run it?
Government should do their own job and not rely on media reports to start a Section 32 enquiry that drags on for years so that the media can report on it every three months while the culprits continue elsewhere with the same conduct. Finding a contravention of the law should take 30 days at the most. Then you just need to remove the doubt from the evidence. End of case, NPA, take it further! Now enquiries are bogged down by delays, and more delays and more delays; a concept not unfamiliar to the sinking Construction sector. If it is not the presiding officer falling under pressure, it is a key witness failing to appear for whatever reason. If your witness don’t appear, you author your own demise. Too much leniency stalls the process beyond reason.
There is no need to treat a Section 32 inquiry like a court case. That is yet to come. Get the evidence, write a report and send it to the NPA. Let them decide if there is sufficient guilt in the evidence and prosecute the party responsible.
What the minister should have said was this: ” “Honourable Chairperson, the recent ILO Conference resolved that Occupational Health and Safety be elevated to a fundamental principle and right. Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights supports this as well. In this light we will tighten the OHS Act, removing the self-regulatory nature thereof and form partnerships with private entities and local government agencies to enforce the OHS Act.”
Instead the DOEL will be “adding 200 inspectors to the current team that is working to ensure implementation of the national minimum wage“. No mention of 200 more OHS inspectors. Nope only an excuse that “we face the limitations of inspection and enforcement in the field of health and safety.”
Which brings me to that paper jet called the OHS Bill. After a 4 year journey through deep space inside the walls of Parliament, the paper jet landed on the desk of Cabinet on 7 May 2018. The crew has been trapped inside the jet since then as it waits the ground staff to amend the Employment Equity Bill a few others. The paper jet is also sharing parking on the apron with other smaller paper jets, like the Ergonomic regulations and the Asbestos Abatement Regulations. All waiting for ground support which stopped working at the end of May 2019, a year later. And no movement since then. Now if that is not a clear indication of the low priority OHS has in SA, then bats can swim and fish can walk.
Come on Honourable Minister! You are now dealing with people’s lives, not bricks and cement like at the DPW. Ask for help; it is not a shame and is most likely going to be offered for free from various sources.