news shutterstockIn our afternoon roundup, see summaries
of our selection of South African labour-
related stories that appeared thus far on
Thursday, 26 March 2020.


TOP STORY – CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN

Government and courts prepare for legal challenges over lockdown regulations

BusinessLive reports that the government and the courts are gearing up for possible urgent legal challenges to the state’s emergency lockdown regulations, which have been formulated in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.  The regulations, which will go into effect from midnight on Thursday, were published in the Government Gazette — a process required to ensure they are legally binding — late on Wednesday afternoon.  Justice & constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola linked the regulations and their implementation to section 36 of the constitution, which allows for the limitation of constitutional rights “to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society”.  Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday pointed to the possibility of legal challenges “in relation to the constitutionality or the validity of the measures being implemented” by the state and said courts “therefore have to stay open” to deal with such cases.  Mogoeng delegated the heads of all lower and superior courts to issue their own directives “that would enable access to courts in relation to any urgent matter, bail applications, maintenance and domestic violence-related matters and cases involving children issues”.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Karyn Maughan at BusinessLive

Network of organisations call for support for SA’s informal workers facing Covid-19 pandemic

Engineering News reports that a network of organisations representing informal workers in SA – who number about five-million – has lamented the lack of recognition of the challenges the sector faces in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The organisations called on government, trade union federations and big business to ensure that in all upcoming Nedlac discussions, representatives of organised workers in the informal economy were invited to participate to present the perspectives of workers in the informal economy, including self-employed workers.  The organisations also requested that employers of informal workers not be allowed to send staff home with no pay amid the current crisis.  Considering that most of such workers live day-by-day on small incomes, the organisations called on government to make urgent arrangements to redirect funds from the Unemployment Insurance Fund surplus, from large events that have been cancelled and from other sources to support them.  The organisations also requested the establishment of a Living Cash Grant to all informal workers, regardless of nationality.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard at Engineering News

Domestic workers still unsure about their rights in event of coronavirus illness

Pretoria News reports that domestic workers, still waiting for the Constitutional Court to confirm a high court ruling regarding their rights to claim for injury or illness while on duty, are not yet covered for coronavirus infection while at work.  Pinky Mashiane, president of United Domestic Workers of SA, said domestic workers remained extremely vulnerable as there were presently no official measures in place to protect them.  She advised as follows:  “Some employers will pay their domestic workers’ medical bills if they get infected, but others are expected to dispute that they had contracted the virus while on duty.  This is especially in light of them having to travel on public transport to work.”  Mashiane urged employers to place their domestic workers on paid leave during the lockdown period.  She noted that:  “Workers depend on their jobs to provide for their families.  They obviously cannot work from home and many are experiencing uncertainty about their jobs.”  Those whose employers have registered them for UIF benefits will be able to claim if they lose out on their salaries.  But Mashiane said the problem was that many employers had not yet registered their workers.  The organisation and other unions have approached the Department of Employment and Labour to ask that a special fund be made available to assist such people financially if they were not paid during this time.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Zelda Venter at Pretoria News

Sex workers call on Ramaphosa to include them in plan to aid workers during coronavirus lockdown

News24Wire reports that the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke, the National Movement of Sex Workers, have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to make urgent provision for the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme to include sex workers.  The two organisations said in a statement:  “Sex work is work, and they too need help as their livelihood has been disrupted.  We also call on the president to take urgent steps and mandate the department of justice and correctional services to fast-track the sex work law-reform process and decriminalise sex work in order to address the evident exclusion of sex workers in accessing labour rights in times of need.”  On Monday, Ramaphosa announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown with effect from midnight on Thursday.  South Africans have been instructed to stay at home during this period to combat the spread of the coronavirus and all non-essential businesses will be closed.  “However, this drastic decision comes with many uncertainties for unskilled workers in the country, including sex workers,” said Sweat and Sisonke.  They noted with concern how sex workers were missing from the general conversations about support for workers throughout the pandemic and lockdown.  Sweat and Sisonke said they would start a Go-Fund-Me page to assist sex workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard at The Citizen

Migrant worker exodus out of Gauteng undermines SA virus lockdown

Bloomberg reports that migrant workers in Gauteng, SA’s economic hub and the epicentre of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, were heading home on Wednesday in droves ahead of a three-week national lockdown, raising the risk of the pandemic becoming more widespread.  The province has among the country’s best medical facilities and it was “not the most rational response” for residents to leave and place their families and other communities at risk, Premier David Makhura told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday.  “The lockdown will be undermined,” he warned.  President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 23 March that the containment measures would come into effect at midnight on Thursday.  People will only be allowed to leave their homes to go shopping, collect welfare grants and seek medical care – unless they provide an essential service.  The country is in the very early stages of the pandemic and an increase in infections was expected, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize noted, adding that restricting movement should slow the spread of the virus and reduce the risk that the health system would be swamped.  The country has 16,373 intensive-care beds in hospitals that can be used to isolate infected patients, Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille told reporters.  The government has also identified 52 sites that can be used to isolate those who don’t need to be hospitalised, but can’t stay at home.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Mike Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto at Moneyweb. Read too, Buses packed as travellers head home before lockdown, at TimesLIVE

Prisoners may be left vulnerable as warders threaten to strike over coronavirus fears

The Star reports that prisoners could be left vulnerable during the 21-day national lockdown as angry warders in fear of their lives have threatened strike action over an alleged lack of protection from coronavirus.  Prisoners have also threatened to go on hunger strike, with inmates from both male and female correctional facilities slamming the lack of testing and preventative measures given to them to combat the deadly virus.  SA has about 240 prison facilities with a population of more than 154,200 inmates, including thousands of warders.  More than a dozen prison warders, from across the country, claimed that they were made to work for almost two weeks without any screening, sanitisers or other precautions to combat the coronavirus.  They asserted that nothing has been done since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a national state of disaster two weeks ago and the lockdown on Monday.  The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has compiled a confidential operational plan for its employees that encompasses measures to protect workers and inmates, but none of the warders who spoke to The Star have seen the plan.  In a statement, the DCS said it had “activated infection prevention control measures at all management areas with specific directives to ensure that personal protective equipment is availed and has pushed for the sanitation of reception areas, cells, offices, vehicles and ablution facilities.”

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Khaya Koko at The Star

Lamola says prisoners and correctional services officials will be safe during coronavirus lockdown, but PSA ‘extremely’ concerned

BusinessLive reports that according to Justice & Correctional Services minister Ronald Lamola, there was no need to panic over correctional services employees and offenders in SA's jails as they would be safe.  With SA set to go into coronavirus lockdown at midnight on Thursday, the critical issue of its impact on officials and offenders in severely overcrowded prisons was unclear.  One the measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he declared a national state of disaster was that no visitors would be allowed at correctional services facilities for 30 days.  This sparked concern about what could happen in SA's prisons.  The Public Servants Association (PSA), which represent 14,000 employees at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), said on Tuesday it was “extremely” concerned that severely understaffed correctional centres were not adequately prepared for a potential outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.  The union warned Lamola that should he not intervene immediately and ensure that the DCS rolled out the required protective equipment for personnel, the prison system faced collapse.  At a media briefing on Wednesday, Lamola said:  “We will ensure that offenders and officials are safe, there is no need to panic.”

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Claudi Mailovich at BusinessLive

Train services suspended for duration of national lockdown

ANA reports that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Wednesday that all commuter rail services would shut down for the duration of SA’s national lockdown commencing at midnight on Thursday.  He advised at a press briefing:  “All long-distance passenger rail services, both public and private, will stop operations for the duration of the lockdown.  Services of Shosholoza Meyl, Premier Classe and Blue Train operated by Prasa and Transnet respectively, have already been suspended."  Minibus taxis would be allowed to transport essential services workers and those allowed to make the necessary permitted movements, but would operate from 05h00 to 09h00 and again from 16h00 to 20h00.  As part of the relief measures for small businesses in distress, taxis that had been financed via national taxi finance, administered by the small enterprise finance agency, would be granted a three month repayment reprieve.  The minister also announced that vehicle testing centres and drivers’ licence testing centres would be closed during the lockdown.  Should drivers’ licenses expire, they would remain valid until the end of the lockdown, with a grace period of renewal within 14 working days thereafter.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard at Engineering News. Read too, Joburg buses to be scaled down, on page 2 of Sowetan of 26 March 2020

Pressure on Health Professions Council of SA to greenlight remote consultations via video and voice calls

BusinessLive reports that doctors are pleading for the medical regulator to allow them to consult via video and voice calls to keep vulnerable patients safe at home and ensure that those with Covid-19 symptoms don’t come into busy waiting rooms.  The rule forbidding such consultations has been contentious for years, with "telemedicine" having come into vogue in some parts of the world.  In recent weeks, calls by doctors to relax the rules have reached fever pitch.  The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) has yet to make a decision.  The restriction means health professionals cannot bill for video consultations because most medical aids won’t refund them in full.  Moreover, malpractice insurance firms judge health professionals by HPCSA rules and if the rules do not change, psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals will not have indemnity cover when participating in telemedicine. Many will not accept such financial risk and patients will suffer.  Yet, Discovery medical scheme encourages and pays its GPs to consult with existing patients over its own video platform.  The SA Medical Association (Sama) has joined calls for the regulator to relax the limitations.  HPCSA registrar Kgosi Letlape commented:  “The council is not against dropping the limits, and a decision will be made as soon as possible.”

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Katharine Child at BusinessLive

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • Businesses providing essential services must seek approval to trade during lockdown, at TimesLIVE
  • Journalism an important national asset, necessity during pandemic, says Mthembu, at Engineering News
  • Retail motor industry urges to be classified as an essential service, at Moneyweb
  • Working from home can be just as productive, says Stellenbosch professor, at Engineering News


INDUSTRIAL ACTION / STRIKES

Public-service unions divided about striking over wage increase on 1 April

BusinessLive reports that cracks are beginning to show in the previously united front between public-service unions on what action to take against the government to compel it to increase public servants’ salaries on 1 April.  The unions were previously in unison that embarking on strike would force the government to honour the wage agreement signed in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) in 2018.  While some are still in favour of downing tools, others seem to be rejecting that idea and want the matter settled in the courts.  On Thursday, Nehawu said it had postponed its 30 March national day of action designed to serve as a “warning shot”.  Instead during the national lockdown commencing at midnight on Thursday, its leadership “shall explore all possible avenues at their disposal, particularly if the agreement is not implemented as it is by April 1 2020.”  Nupsaw said they still rejected the 0% increase tabled by government at the PSCBC and, while the strike had been suspended, the action would still be considered when the lockdown was lifted.  The PSA will send a letter of demand to public service and administration minister Senzo Mchunu requiring him to make an undertaking that “he will implement the salary adjustments come April 1”.  The union added that:  “We are not going to down tools as the PSA, even when the lockdown has been lifted, because this matter requires us to litigate.”  Denosa said that embarking on a strike was now not their “primary objective and intention”.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Luyolo Mkentane at BusinessLive


SOEs IN CRISIS

SA Express to ask the UIF Covid-19 benefit fund for March salary payments

BL Premium reports that state-owned airline SA Express has completely run out of cash and is expected to be among the first organisations to apply to the UIF temporary employee relief scheme (Ters) for assistance, under the expedited Covid-19 benefit.  The airline did not pay salaries for March, which makes it the first state-owned entity (SOE) to completely run out of cash.  The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and the SA Cabin Crew Association (Sacca) said their members were told on Wednesday that they would not be paid.  SA Express is in business rescue after a creditor brought a successful court application in February.  Unlike SA Airways (SAA), which is also in business rescue and has been provided finance of R5.5bn by the National Treasury, SA Express has not received any assistance to finance the rescue process.  The airline employs almost 700 people.  At SAA, it was announced on Thursday that acting CEO Zuks Ramasia was to take early retirement from mid-April.  SAA has not had a permanent CEO since the resignation of Vuyani Jarana last June.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Carol Paton at BusinessLive (paywall access only)


MINING LABOUR

Coal mining and PGM processing permitted to continue during 21-day lockdown

Miningmx reports that SA’s coal mines and platinum group metal (PGM) processing facilities will continue to operate, albeit at reduced levels, during the 21-day lockdown due to start at midnight on 26 March.  Mines and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said in a briefing on Wednesday that energy supply was critical to the economy and added:  “The supply of fuel and supply of coal to Eskom and liquid fuel production are critical in this period.”  The exportation of coal would be assessed “on its own merits” (in some cases, coal producers mine seams that yield both domestic and export-quality coal).  In his announcement on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that “companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces, underground mine operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations”.  Mantashe said a meeting with the Minerals Council SA and sector unions was held to “to give meaning” to Ramaphosa’s statement.  As a result, processing facilities would be allowed to continue.  “In some mining operations, a complete shutdown will not be feasible as a restart from scratch would be too costly and endanger security of supply and endanger the economy,” he indicated.  Production in the gold, chrome, manganese and other sectors will be scaled down.  Despite the shutdown of open cast and underground mining, essential services that support the sector such as security and related infrastructure, maintenance, water pumping, refrigeration and ventilation will continue.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by David McKay at Miningmx. See too, Wescoal deemed an essential service provider, at BusinessLive


RETRENCHMENTS

Comair readies for significant job cuts

Financial Mail writes that SA’s aviation sector will emerge from the current economic crisis in a very different shape to what it was a month ago.  With no commercial flights permitted anywhere in SA for at least the next three weeks, the full impact is hard to gauge.  There are already casualties and more will follow.  Bankrupt state-owned carrier SA Express grounded itself more than a week ago, and while the plan was for SAA’s business rescue practitioners to reveal their turnaround strategy for the airline next week, it’s hard to see a future for it.  In the meantime, private-sector competitor Comair is making cutbacks.  Hours ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of SA’s three-week lockdown, and days after announcing the sudden departure of two senior executives, Comair revealed that it was embarking on a significant retrenchment process.  How many jobs will be cut is still an open question.  The airline said it was implementing section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, which makes provision for redundancies, as part of a financial recovery plan.  "Despite our efforts over the past few months to preserve cash, maintain liquidity, divestment from nonperforming acquisitions, aggressive cost reduction across the group, taking back control of the fleet and unlocking further operational efficiencies, more remains to be done," said CEO Wrenelle Stander in a statement.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Bruce Whitfield at BusinessLive

 


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