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What companies need to do as workers return to work under level 3

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi lays down law for employers

29 May 2020 - 16:14 By Zingisa Mvumvu
Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said employees who contract Covid-19 in the workplace will be entitled to a 14-day quarantine and paid sick leave.
Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said employees who contract Covid-19 in the workplace will be entitled to a 14-day quarantine and paid sick leave.
Image: GCIS

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi said on Friday that if employees didn’t feel like their bosses were taking the necessary Covid-19 safety measures, they did not have to go to work.

He said consultation was held with social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), and draft amendments to the directive issued ahead of level 3 had been tabled.

“The draft direction clarifies that employees have the right to refuse to work if they have a reasonable belief that the necessary precautions have not been put in place to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.

“Where such disputes arise, employers should seek to resolve these as quickly as possible. If the dispute leads to a dismissal or other unfair labour practice, these cases may be referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA),” Nxesi said during an economic cluster briefing on level 3 regulations.

Cogta minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on May 28 2020 announced the rules and regulations under level 3 of SA's Covid-19 lockdown. Alongside trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel, the ministers outlined what would stay the same and what would change for the country. Here’s what you need to know about lockdown level 3.

When asked about workers staying away if they didn't feel safe, Nxesi said: “We are going to rely, one, on the organised workers, the unions. Shop stewards become very important  to help us because we can’t be at every workplace. Secondly, we’ve requested that health and safety committees are put in place at every workplace to deal with what is emerging so they can resolve those issues. Those must have worker representation.”

Furthermore, said Nxesi, employers will also be required to appoint a Covid-19 compliance officer, undertake a risk assessment of the workplace and develop a plan for the return to work.

All of this must be in place before the reopening of businesses, in consultation with representative trade unions and health and safety committees.

The amended directives will also contain details of responsibilities of employers about their employees who have underlying heath conditions and those that are older than 60.

Workers who contract Covid-19 in the workplace will also be entitled to a 14-day quarantine and paid sick leave, he said.

Employers will also be compelled to provide no less than two free face masks to all staff members. The washing thereof will be each employee’s responsibility.

This also applies to domestic workers and gardeners, Nxesi said.

Costs emanating from the purchase of sanitisers and disinfection of office surfaces will be paid for by employers, and they are prohibited from deducting from staff members’ salaries for these.

Nxesi said the draft amendments would be finalised and published, either on Friday or at the weekend, ahead of level 3 starting on June 1.

The minister expressed concern about non-compliance by employers, saying this was cause for concern.

Inspectors dispatched by the department had been arriving unannounced at workplaces, and will continue to do so under level 3.

Those employers who continue to disobey precautionary measures will be sanctioned accordingly, Nxesi said.

“The state of compliance leaves much to be desired. For example, in inspections conducted on Monday this week of 72 workplaces, 44 were not compliant,” said Nxesi.

“As a result, the inspectors served six prohibition notices, 37 contraventions, and six improvement notices, just on the one day.

“We need to change behaviour in response to the dangers posed by Covid-19. This message has not embedded itself in the consciousness of many employers, according to what we see in our statistics.”

Nxesi said the situation of non-compliance had been attended to in the past two months as 332 prohibition notices were served.

He said the 3,844 inspections conducted, 2,116 workplaces complied while 1,724 failed to do so.

On Unemployment Insurance Funds claims relating to Covid-19, Nxesi revealed that R15bn had been paid to 200,000 employers for the benefit of three-million workers.

Applications for May opened on Thursday, he said.