Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa would enter a 21-day lockdown to help curb the spread of Covid-19, the Department of Employment and Labour is enacting several support measures for affected employers and employees.
In a briefing on March 24, Minister Thulas Nxesi noted that large groups of workers would remain at work, such as those in emergency services, medical professionals and those providing essential services.
He emphasised that these workers must receive the necessary protective gear when at work.
For those workers affected by the lockdown, or those that become sick, the department will be providing support through a number of measures.
Firstly, it will be activating the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, for those workers to seek leave and annual leave.
Nxesi indicated that this was not an extraordinary measure, but part of the law.
Thereafter, he noted that employers and labour, through the National Economic Development and Labour Council, have agreed to negotiate the special leave conditions for those who fall ill as a result of work. They will be covered by the Compensation Fund or the Compensation Act.
The Unemployment Insurance Fund’s existing benefits for reduced worktime or illness for affected workers will be augmented through a new national disaster benefit. This amount will be calculated on a sliding scale, but will not be less than the minimum wage of R3 500, emphasised Nxesi.
He added that the department would not be announcing exact figures of the benefit at this point, to prevent raising expectations and being unable to fulfil it later.
He noted that the actuaries were busy with these calculation, and meeting with Nedlac stakeholders.
The Minister expected detailed information on how this would be administered to be announced on March 25.
Nxesi noted that it must be remembered that millions of workers will now be claiming from the UIF, and the department must therefore find a way of decentralising this.
He said companies and bargaining councils would be used for distributing the new UIF benefits. He emphasised that the department would be using strict auditing controls to ensure this money was accounted for.
Also, one of the UIF’s existing programmes, the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme, would be expanded and expedited. One of the conditions of this will be that companies embark on a turnaround plan or sustainable programmes. This will be overseen by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
The UIF has also produced a guide of these measure and requirements for employers, along with contact details for each province.
Further to this, the department will have a dedicated line for companies and workers.
For affected workers in the informal sector, Nxesi said the department’s legislation did not accommodate for this; however, he noted that the President’s announcement averred to a safety net for these workers.