Organised business has called for domestic firms to take steps to ensure that their workplaces are Covid-19-ready in light of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s May 24 announcement that the country would transition from lockdown Level 4 to Level 3 from June 1, a move that will result in many more South Africans returning to work.
In a televised address, Ramaphosa cautioned, however, that a differentiated approach to dealing with virus hotspots could result in some areas returning to stricter lockdown levels should there be a rapid and uncontrolled rise in infections.
A hotspot was defined as an area that had more than five infected people per every 100 000, or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace.
In welcoming the easing, Business Unity South Africa (Busa) president Sipho Pityana said it was critical that businesses, big and small, played their part in ensuring workplaces were “corona-ready when employees return to work under Level 3”.
Business for South Africa’s (B4SA’s) Martin Kingston added that a “different premise” was required when restarting business activity, “one where everyone is willing to adapt to fight Covid-19”.
“The consistent use of nonpharmaceutical interventions (masks, hand washing and sanitising, social distancing) must become second nature for every individual and every organisation. We must all ensure that working practices are adapted to meet the health, safety, and hygiene protocols required to combat Covid-19,” Kingston said.
Business Leadership South Africa CEO Busi Mavuso added that, during a meeting between business, the President and some Cabinet members on May 21, an understanding developed that further transition through the lockdown levels will only occur if business is able to demonstrate that it can operate safely and protect workers.
Pityana expressed deep appreciation for the time Ramaphosa had spent in consultation with business and other stakeholders and said Busa fully supported the move to Level 3.
“As [the President] says, it is time for many of us to return to work – but to do so in a safe way as possible, and in a way that continues the struggle against this deadly virus.
“There were many different issues to consider in making the decision to move from Level 4 to Level 3, and the outcomes are the result of a fine balancing act under extremely difficult conditions.
“We believe that the decision announced by the President is best for the country given where we find ourselves now,” Pityana added.
PRESSURE NOW ON BUSINESS
Mavuso said the pressure was now on business to innovate and adapt to the crisis.
“If we can demonstrate that operating supports, not hinders, the fight against the disease then there will be a rapid move through the lockdown phases,” she said.
Besides finding new ways of working, business also needed to help workers find safe ways of getting to and from work.
B4SA said the safe reopening of the economy required behaviour changes, as the virus would remain a risk for an extended period of time.
“We need to embed the health and safety protocols, and these must become part of our everyday lives,” Kingston said, pointing to guidelines that had already been developed to support a safe, effective and structured return to work plan.
These guidelines are available online at https://www.return2work.co.za.
“We need to quickly restore more people’s capacity to earn and enable businesses to function,” Kingston argued.
“Failing that, government revenue will fall further and larger-scale job losses and more business failures will become inevitable.
“B4SA is therefore of the firm view that the current rate of economic decline can be slowed further by a rapid progression through Level 3, while embedding health protocols throughout society in the public and private sectors.
“There remains an absolute necessity for further swift easing of economic restrictions.”