Coronavirus: Nedlac says it’s no longer business as usual

Workplaces need to adapt in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

This was one of the six resolutions that came out of a special executive committee meeting of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on Monday.

“There was a consensus that we can’t regard this as workplaces as usual,” Nedlac executive director Lisa Seftel said at a media briefing following the meeting.

Seftel said employers and trade unions agreed on Monday to work together “to manage issues like short time, shift work, changing working hours and lunch breaks to reduce too many workers congregating in one place”.

She added that there was an acknowledgement that working from home and using online and technology platforms was important, where possible.

The Nedlac meeting was held the day after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that a national disaster had been declared to contain the outbreak of Covid-19. Addressing the nation on Sunday night, Ramaphosa announced a number of drastic measures to manage the disease and reduce its impact on society and the economy.

Ramaphosa called on businesses to ensure that they take all necessary measures to intensify hygiene control.

The dramatic decline in economic activity brought on by the outbreak “will have a potentially severe impact on production, the viability of businesses, job retention and job creation”, Ramaphosa said.

He added that Cabinet is in the process of finalising a comprehensive package of interventions to mitigate this. “This package, which will consist of various fiscal and other measures, will be concluded following consultation with business, labour and other relevant institutions.”

On Monday, Seftel said that the Nedlac executive committee acknowledged that “workers should not be punished by a reduction of income due to factors outside of their control”. 

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi indicated that the current occupational health and safety, unemployment insurance and compensation fund legislation provides paid  special leave to be claimed when a worker has to take time off to be quarantined.

According to Seftel, the government indicated its commitment to a number of additional measures to support workers who become distressed due to the negative impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, including the recently established Temporary Employee Employer Relief Scheme administered jointly by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Bheki Ntshalintshali, general secretary of trade federation Cosatu, said a lot needs to be done “and it must be done urgently”.

“So the first message that we are all trying to communicate is we must help one another to fight the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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