Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has temporary halted operations at its manufacturing plant in Epping in Cape Town after workers tested positive for Covid-19. It followed an inspection by the Department of Labour on Monday following a statement by the South African Communist Party that demanded the closure of the plant, alleging that more than 70 workers have tested positive.

A spokesperson of the Department, Candice van Reenen told The Cape Times that the department inspected the company on Monday and issued the employer with a prohibition notice which restricts GSK from conducting operations.

Van Reenen said the employer was in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (No 85 of 1993), and did not have risk assessments in place that speak to the Covid-19 regulations, no sanitising and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.

“The department, among other things, has instructed the employer to do a proper risk assessment of the workplace. There also needs to be a deep clean of the entire workplace. Correct PPE also needs to be made available to staff.

“A follow-up inspection will be conducted once the employer has confirmed that all minimum standards have been put in place to ensure the safety of employees.

“If the inspector is satisfied with the efforts of the employer, the prohibition notice will then be lifted,” said Van Reenen.

GSK confirmed that a number of employees at the manufacturing site had tested positive for Covid-19, saying that the welfare of its employees is its first priority and that it is taking all recommended steps to support the employees.

In a statement, the SACP alleges that the first person who had tested positive was told by management to remain silent about the situation.

Welcoming the closure of the plant, the SACP commended the Department of Labour for its “timeous response and swift action to conduct an inspection following the outbreak of Covid-19, where 73 workers tested positive, and order the company to bring its production to a halt with immediate effect.

“The SACP maintains its call that the company be held liable for the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the company. In our view, it does appear that the company was reckless for allowing production to take place despite some workers having tested positive for Covid-19,” the SACP said.