A report compiled by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Change and nonprofit organisation Casual Workers Advice Office finds that companies still operating during the lockdown are largely failing to provide adequate health and safety provisions.
The report is based on analysis of 75 companies, from small to large enterprises, of which 35 remain operational during the lockdown and 40 ceased operations for the time being.
The findings in the report highlight significant and concerning gaps in the occupational health and safety measures at companies that still operate, the authors note.
Of the 35 companies that are still operating, 30 have not provided personal protective equipment, 29 have not undertaken measures to ensure physical distancing in the workplace, 28 have not provided transport for workers and 22 have not provided hand sanitiser.
The report also shows that most employers that have shut down during the lockdown have not sought to alleviate the burden on workers through applying for the Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme provided by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL).
Only nine out of 40 companies have applied to this relief scheme. However, this might be because government, business and labour only reached agreement yesterday around how the relief scheme will be funded and other technicalities; the agreement now awaits gazetting.
Instead, most employers are forcing workers to take paid and unpaid leave, despite Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi imploring employers not to do this.
Additionally, the report says that high levels of noncompliance on the part of the employer – around registering their workers for the Unemployment Insurance Fund – will largely limit the relief that workers can seek, through no fault of their own.
Meanwhile, the report also finds that some companies providing essential services at this time are continuing to also produce non-essential and luxury goods which are not required in the fight against the virus.
At these companies, continued production risks the lives of workers unnecessarily, the authors say.
Given the Centre for Social Change’s and Casual Workers Advice Office’s findings, they recommend that the DEL intensify its efforts to inspect and halt operations at companies that fail to comply with health and safety guidelines, as well as prioritise inspections at large operations where workers are most at risk.
The organisations also suggest that the classification of essential goods and services be reviewed so that workers’ lives are not jeopardised for the production of luxury goods, while employers must be compelled to apply for relief if they are unable to pay salaries during the lockdown period.