Survey Results: Which workers employers are putting workers at risk

Employers are responsible for ensuring that they provide safe working conditions for their employees by taking all necessary COVID-19 precautions.  asked members in a survey about their current working conditions and the biggest challenges they are facing in the workplace. We found that most employers are not doing enough to keep workers safe while at work. See below to view the full results of the survey.

Survey questions:

Where do you work?

Among those who work for the government, most who completed the survey work in hospitals and clinics, schools and universities, and various departments across the country. 

Where is your place of work located?

As indicated in the pie chart, most of the people who have returned to work are in Gauteng. Those classified as ‘Other’ are the few people in provinces such as Freestate, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, and a few others are outside of South Africa.

In what way is your employer not adequately protecting workers from COVID-19?

Based on the survey results, 60.28% of employers are not taking necessary steps to protect workers from COVID-19.

Out of 214 responses, 129 people responded that their employers aren’t doing anything at all to keep them safe at work. This includes no PPE, no hand sanitisers and no social distancing. There is no transparency about the infection rates in the workplace.

 Forty-seven people responded that positive cases were recorded at their workplaces, but they were instructed to keep reporting to work. A few indicated that the workplace was closed for no more than two days and the worker who tested positive still had to return to work after that.

Only 38 people responded that their employers are taking all the necessary precautions to keep everyone protected. This includes the provision of masks, hand sanitisers, social distancing and working from home.

Nine people indicated that they could work from home, but their salary would be reduced – the no work no pay rule would be applied if they chose to work from home. Those who have comorbidities and could work from home were still forced to report to work. , or else they would face consequences including not getting paid or being forced to resign.

Below are responses from some employees (Please note that the responders gave permission to share their stories).

  • “Colleagues are sick and more are getting sick but we continue to go to work like nothing happened. Others test positive but it becomes a secret and we therefore can’t trace our movements in relation with them.”
  • “By not allowing employees to take sick leave when they are not feeling well, they force them to take annual leave and now employees are scared to disclose if they are sick so they can save leave days.”
  • “No temperature taken at start of shift, pregnant employees working in open space offices, only few hand sanitizers provided that only lasts till lunch time, visitors not screened and coming into offices as they like.”
  • “My employer is giving adequate protection. In fact, we are still working from home. This will remain for the rest of 2020.”

Have you communicated with your employer about the issue? What was their response?

One hundred and thirty-one people responded they have communicated with their employers about the issue. Out of the 131, 119 of them said nothing has changed since they’ve raised their concerns. Some were threatened with losing their jobs, some were just ignored. Others were promised things would change, but that did not happen.

Thirty six people responded with a no. Most said it is because they are afraid of being victimised and losing their jobs. Some just saw no point in doing that because they knew that their employers ‘don’t care’.

Only 12 people said they’ve seen changes after addressing the issue, and some of their employers went to the extent of providing as much information and being as transparent as possible to keep them safe while at work.

Below are responses from some employees.

  • “We are told not to ask questions even if a teacher tests positive for Covid-19. We are advised not to talk to anyone. They don’t want a panic. The school has teachers with comorbidities working every day. We work online from school although we could do it from home. But we need our salary.”
  • The management said chances of dying from corona are low compared to car accidents. 😡”
  • “It’s expensive to do all those things; it will affect the budget”
  • “Yes on numerous occasions. They say it’s only those who test positive who need PPEs.”

Have you taken any other measures to try and have your employer fix the issue? If so, what did you do?

Eighty-seven people responded with a yes, yet  nothing changed for 45 of them after taking some actions against their employers. In a few cases, some have lost their jobs.

Eighty-two people did not take any further measures as they were afraid of losing their jobs. So they resorted to buying their own masks and hand sanitisers. Only two people responded that they have seen positive changes after taking some action.

Below are the responses from some employees:

  • “Yes, we eventually refused to work if we were not given new clean masks and face shields every morning.”
  • “Helpless, except for complaining. Affected nurses were warned not to expose their status. Very unethical.”
  • “Yes, I tried to convince the employer about how our health and lives are more important than wealth.”
  • “Reported them to the regional office but they are delaying; they even suspended one of the shop stewards because of that.”

Below are selected comments that illustrate the experience of workers.

(Please note that the following were slightly edited for brevity and clarity)

  • “I have communicated with the employer and they are terminating my contract on the 29 of july after working there for 12 years, while everyone else has had their contracts extended to December 2020 because of the pandemic. They are also refusing to repay me my R110,000 which they have owed me since 2018. I’ve done a grievance report and also went to the military ombudsman and the public protector, but with no success.”
  • “We have people who leave the office every day to go and see clients, who then come back and interact with employees. We have two employees who have tested positive and we are told we still need to come into the office although we could work from home. Since we found out, management hasn’t been to the office; yet we are at risk every day.”
  • “We have been adequately provided for. Before we were allowed to work from home, we were separated from one another, and were given sanitisers, masks and gloves.”
  • “My employer is not complying with Covid-19 protocols, does not allow workers who came into contact with affected workers to quarantine and does not support mass testing of staff.”
  • “Being a healthcare worker and being exposed to other colleagues who contract Covid-19 we are not sent home to quarantine. We are not being swabbed if we had contact with an exposed colleague. We have to continue working even if its reported. We are being ignored with no feedback because their main concern is that we are short staff and we are needed. Wealso lack PPE.”