A legal battle between the Ministry of Health and Wellness and Botswana Land Boards, Local Authorities and Health Workers Union (BLLAHWU) is looming after the ministry rejected demands by the union to have its members - who are COVID19 frontliners - given Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), food and transport.
BLLAHWU wrote a letter through its attorneys this week Tuesday to the Attorney General indicating that as at present and following engagements with DPSM Director, there has been no positive response to the demand that frontline health workers be provided with the necessary PPEs and hand sanitisers.The union mentioned that the deployment of Social Workers into households without any
PPEs expose both the households that the Social Workers will assess and the Social Workers themselves.
"The client represents more than two thirds (2/3) of all Health Workers and Local Government employees, the specific cadres inclusive. To that end, there is a collective labour agreement which has to be honoured by both parties. In addition to this, the Employer has conditions of service for the respective cadres of employment”. There are further World Health Organisation Guidelines which require PPEs for such frontline persons. The WHO Guidelines are part of “our law by reason of them being recognised by the Regulations in Statutory Instrument No. 61 of 2020," said Motswagole and Company law firm in a demand letter dated April 14th 2020.
The attorneys added that there is a further risk of transmission between Social Workers and their
Counselling clients, especially given the private and closed environment in which counselling services are ordinarily provided. "We are under instruction from the client to demand as a matter of urgency that within 3 days of this letter all the relevant Ministries, who have been copied herein, provide all of the deployed staff with PPEs, hand sanitisers, food and transport in their respective shifts.
“Take notice that should the above not happen, the undersigned shall approach the High Court on an urgent basis to compel to provide all the deployed staff with PPEs as per their respective shifts." In response the Attorney General representing the health ministry indicated that the employees are engaged on their day-to-day work and the ministry is not in a position to provide food. It is further stated in the response letter dated April 16th 2020 that there are no records of transport challenges.
According to the ministry BLLAHWU members being social workers perform in-person interviews in a community setting and their subjects are community members who are presumably asymptomatic. The ministry posited that guidelines dictate that interviewers exercise social distancing of one (1) metre from subject therefore PPE is not a requirement. The ministry has however admitted that there has been shortage of PPEs in the central district a challenge it said will be rectified.