Essential services workers forge ahead despite lockdown challenges

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Thabo Mogale, Tebogo Molefe and Peterjie More stand outside the Local Dog Shop. Picture: Molebogeng Mokoka/City Press
Thabo Mogale, Tebogo Molefe and Peterjie More stand outside the Local Dog Shop. Picture: Molebogeng Mokoka/City Press

The production and sale of essential goods, cleaning, sanitation, newspapers, broadcasting and the police.

These are classified as essential services, which are allowed to continue during the 21-day national lockdown in South Africa.

Effective until April 16, the lockdown is one of the measures taken by government in an effort to flatten the curve of new infections of the Covid-19 coronavirus in South Africa.

With the minimum wage pegged at R20.76 an hour, the country is still regarded as one of the most unequal in the world, with some essential services workers earning less.

“You are our unsung heroes and we salute you,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa as paid tribute to all workers providing essential services during the lockdown period.

The business has been struggling since the lockdown. I don’t come to work as often because there are fewer customers and less work
Thabo Mogale

Thabo Mogale (25), works as cleaner at Local Boyz Dog Shop, which sells dog food and accessories in Atteridgeville, Pretoria.

He said he usually helps out his family of 10, but it’s been hard to do so during the lockdown.

“My aunt works and my grandmother receives a social grant. I can’t share how much I earn, but on top of helping out [financially at home], I try to save some money.

“The business has been struggling since the lockdown. I don’t come to work as often because there are fewer customers and less work,” Mogale told City Press.

Thabiso Mphahlele (23), who also works as a cleaner, shared similar sentiments.

As the sole breadwinner, Mphahlele said one of his concerns was not being able to provide for his family of four.

While he receives the same salary during the lockdown, Mphahlele wished he could earn more.

Local Dog Food

“I’m part of what they call essential services. My salary is normal, but I think that it should be a bit higher during the lockdown.

“I don’t have a problem with it [lockdown] because it’s supposed to protect us from getting the coronavirus. We have masks and sanitisers at work, but you can’t really know if someone has it by looking at them,” Mphahlele said.

But there are those who are happy to report for duty during the lockdown.

One of them is Cecilia Ratshilingane (35), who works as a petrol attendant also in Atteridgeville.

Despite working fewer shifts, Ratshilingane said her job kept her from being idle at home.

“It’s not like I’m sitting and doing nothing. I support my three kids, my mom and four younger siblings. My kids get social grants but I am the only breadwinner and I am able to support my family.

Many of these workers deserve to be paid a danger allowance and we are ensuring that they get it, but addressing this issue is a continuing process,
Sizwe Pamla

“We are provided with sanitisers and gloves to be safe. Fewer shifts also means I interact with fewer customers than before which means I am a bit safer,” she told City Press.

What unions say

“Ours is to look after the interests of workers and offer ideas and constructive support to government to fight against the virus and save the economy,” said union federation Cosatu’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.

“The issue of addressing wage inequality is an ongoing struggle and that is why we have consistently campaigned for a minimum wage and a living wage.

“Many of these workers deserve to be paid a danger allowance and we are ensuring that they get it, but addressing this issue is a continuing process,” said Pamla.

Thabang Mothelo, spokesperson of the Information Communications and Technology Union, said that they have “been very frank about necessities such as gloves, masks and hand sanitisers”.

“We also empower our members about other aspects – such as working from home – so that they know what their rights are during this time,” Mothelo said.


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