Workplaces must be COVID-19 ready





Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi says employers who will be reopening their businesses in terms of level 3 are required to appoint COVID-19 compliance officers at their workplaces.

Minister Nxesi said the employers are also expected to undertake a risk assessment of the workplace and develop a plan for the return of employees to work.

Addressing media during a National Coronavirus Command Council briefing on Friday, Minister Nxesi said in the face of the pandemic, important actions need to be taken to reduce exposure to COVID-19.

He said all persons must wear masks in the workplace and that each employee must be given three face masks free of charge. Workers should not pay for any safety gear given to them. 

“We cannot overemphasise the importance of ensuring that employers, both public and private mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic. We need to change behaviour in response to the dangers posed by COVID-19,” Minister Nxesi said.

Minister Nxesi said his department will inspect workplaces to ensure healthy and safe working conditions.

According to the Minister, workplaces need to ensure that:

• the correct number of employees return;

• that office space and factory floors are in the desirable state; and

• that cleanliness and hygiene are top of mind with workplaces having been deep-cleaned and vehicles disinfected.

Minister Nxesi said in the inspections conducted on Monday this week, of 72 workplaces, 44 of them were not compliant.

As a result, the inspectors served six prohibition notices, 37 contraventions and six improvement notices.

Minister Nxesi said at level 3 of lockdown, many more manual workers will be returning to work and that it is critical that all parties are alert and redouble their efforts to safeguard the workplace against the spread of the virus.

“We would expect every employer to jump at the opportunity of saving their company by protecting their key asset – their workers,” the Minister said, adding that inspections will continue to be conducted in the public and private sectors.

Unemployment Insurance Fund

Since the start of the lockdown, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has committed over R17-billion, and has paid out just over R15-billion in COVID-19 relief benefits to 3 million workers, through 200 000 employers and bargaining councils.

These disbursements have been in lieu of salaries that could not be paid or as a top-up where salaries have been reduced.

Minister Nxesi said his department will continue to process the April applications as well as resolve outstanding queries.

He said on Thursday, the department opened May applications which are currently being processed.

“We believe that with the move to alert level 3, the financial burden on the UIF will be eased somewhat, as more and more people go back to work,” the Minister said.

From 1 june 2020, Labour Centres will open primarily to assist clients with queries and applications for Normal UIF Benefits as well as COVID-19 TERS Benefit queries.

The department encourages the use of their online services for clients to be serviced remotely and avoid over-crowding as well as the spread of the COVID-19.