Government has unveiled employment-related plans expected to soften the blow of the COVID-19 countrywide lockdown, on workers and firms.
During the lockdown, which will come into effect on Thursday midnight until midnight 16 April, only essential services will be able to perform work as normal.
“A large cohort of the workers will remain at work in the emergency services,” said Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi during a press briefing on Tuesday.
Sectors considered essential services include medical, security, firefighters, water and sanitation personnel. Information Communication and Technology, electricity generation, transmission and distribution, media and communication, transportation logistics personnel are also considered essential service providers.
“These are essential because if they are interrupted, lives would be endangered, personal safety and the health of the whole and or part of the population. Those who will be working during this period will be expected to be supplied with the necessary protective gear when on duty,” said the Minister.
Workers who will be affected by the 21-day lockdown or become ill during the outbreak will receive adequate support from the department, he said speaking on behalf of the government.
“We are activating the Basic Conditions of Employment Act rights for those employees to sick leave and annual leave. So there’s nothing extraordinary there, it’s there in the law.
“However, through NEDLAC, employers and labour have agreed to negotiate special leave conditions.
“Those who fall ill will be covered by the Compensation Fund (CF) or the compensation act.
“The UIF benefits for illness, reduced worktime and unemployment will then kick-in. In addition, the UIF will compensate workers through a new National Disaster Benefit,” said Thulas Nxesi.
He said figures would not be released to limit expectations to reduce the government workload.
“Our actuaries are crunching the figures; they are meeting with NEDLAC stakeholders and expect that tomorrow we will make detailed announcements including how this is going to be administered.
“Remember that we are talking about millions of workers who are going to be claiming. We need to find a way that we will decentralize that. We have agreed that we are going to use the companies, the bargaining councils, are going to be advancing monies to them and also allow them to pay those employees, but with very strict conditions,” he said.
The benefit will be calculated on a scale of not less than the R3 500 minimum wage.
The Fund will also be expanded and expedited to the temporary employer/employee relief scheme which assists distressed companies in the form of subsidies to fund directly worker wages.
“One of the conditions is that the company embark upon a turnaround on sustainable programmes but this is overseen by the CMMA and we will be making information available tomorrow but already most companies are aware that they obtain forms and all relevant detail through the UIF website,” he said.
He emphasised that companies had the Occupational Health and Safety responsibility to protect the health of employees.
“This will include conducting risk assessment, providing necessary protective equipment and putting in place systems that will deal with any potential outbreak in the work environment.
“Informal sectors, not registered with UIF, the department can’t assist but the President on Monday said a safety net would be developed to secure those in the sector,” he said.