news shutterstockIn our roundup of weekend news, see
summaries of our selection of South African
labour-related stories that appeared since
Friday, 5 February 2021.


COVID-19 HEALTH AND SAFETY

Setback for SA’s rollout of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

BL Premium reports that the SA government is scrambling to reorient its Covid-19 vaccination plans after new evidence emerged on Sunday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine does not protect people against mild to moderate disease caused by the new variant detected in SA late last year.  This vaccine is the cornerstone of the first phase of SA’s Covid immunisation strategy.  The first phase aims to administer vaccines to SA’s 1.25-million health-care workers.  "It is a temporary issue, until we figure out the next steps.  The plan is to find out from scientists how to use it going forward," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a late night briefing.  Meetings will be taking place on Monday with local and international scientists to chart the way forward.  The government is hoping to be able to press ahead and give the AstraZeneca shots to health-care workers while evaluating it in the field to check whether it protects them against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.  The safety of the vaccine has already been established.  At the same time, scientists are planning to expedite the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, while evaluating that too in the field.  The results of the preliminary analysis also appear to confirm scientists’ fears that the mutations in the variant will allow transmission of the virus even among people who have been vaccinated.  SA’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy currently aims to reach 40-million adults to achieve population immunity, at an estimated cost of between R12bn and R20bn.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Lynley Donnelly and Tamar Kahn at BusinessLive (paywall access only)

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • Early data indicates Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine could be 'less effective' against variant in SA, at News24


PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT (PPE)

SIU report reveals 1,774 service providers under investigation for PPE corruption spree

Sunday Independent reports that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) says it has uncovered a six months looting bonanza between January and July last year that cost the state R13 billion.  This is the information contained in the report that was released by the organisation last week.  The SIU looked into the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) since the Covid-19 pandemic and found instances of serious maladministration in connection with the affairs of the state institutions, improper or unlawful conduct by officials or employees, and unlawful appropriation or expenditure of public money or property.  According to the report, at least 1,774 service providers are under investigation concerning the looting bonanza.  At least 164 contracts awarded to 141 service providers have been finalised to the value of R3 billion, while 1,541 contracts awarded to 777 service providers are still under investigation.  The contracts are estimated to be over R6bn with a further 851 contracts awarded to 856 service providers to the tune of nearly R3bn are yet to be investigated.  As of 2 February 2021, the unit has been able to recover/save the government over R120 million and made 25 referrals for disciplinary action against officials. At least two referrals have been made for executive or administrative action, and 38 referrals have been made to the prosecuting authority.

Nursing union Denosa says SIU report on PPE corruption shows health workers were ‘never the priority to protect’

News24 reports that the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) says a report by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) that R13.3 billion of personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement is subject to investigation makes it clear that healthcare workers were "never the priority to protect".  The trade union was reacting to the SIU's report delivered on Friday, which outlined investigations that had been finalised, as well as the outcomes of some of those investigations.  A total of R30.7 billion was spent by state institutions between April and November 2020, of which R13.3 billion was subject to SIU investigations, head of the unit Andy Mothibi revealed during a briefing.  Mothibi lamented the "insatiable pursuit of self-enrichment" by officials in all spheres of government, which was revealed in the investigations.  Denosa reacted that the government and implicated companies owed healthcare workers an apology and an explanation, as well as recourse, because many were still feeling the effects of infections, while the families of those who had died had lost breadwinners and parents.  It added that companies that rovided workers with substandard PPEs set the sector up for failure, placing many people's lives on the line.  Denosa wants the money that is recovered to be used to buy quality PPE to protect healthcare workers in the wake of warnings of a third wave.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Sesona Ngqakamba at News24. Read too, PPE corruption shows health workers were never a priority, says nursing union, at TimesLIVE

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • PPE lost as fire guts storeroom of Carletonville Hospital in Gauteng, at TimesLIVE


RECOVERY FROM LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS

Tourism Equity Fund suspended as Minister agrees to talks with Solidarity, AfriForum

Engineering News reports that trade union Solidarity and civil rights organisation AfriForum have welcomed the decision by Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane to suspend the Tourism Equity Fund’s (TEF's) activities until discussions have taken place with the organisations.  The suspension came after the two bodies sent an urgent letter to the Minister about the fund, which intends to only offer financing to black-owned tourism businesses.  In the Minister’s reply to Solidarity and AfriForum, she announced that she wished to enter into discussions with them.  She also announced that the fund would be suspended for the duration of those discussions.  The R1.2-billion TEF, aimed at driving transformation in the tourism sector, was launched by the department on 26 January.  “Government has introduced lockdown measures due to Covid-19 and with it, limited trade and the larger economy.  This resulted in thousands of businesses, especially in the tourism industry, not being able to generate any income for months on end. What government needs to do now, is reach out a hand to these businesses and support them, rather than abusing this opportunity to promote their racial ideology.  We welcome the opportunity to enter into a discussion with the Minister regarding this matter,” said Morné Malan, Head of Communications at Solidarity.

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

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • SA’s GDP expected to fall by more than 7% for 2020, at Daily Maverick


OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY

E-hailing taxi driver 'hijacked with taser' in Port Elizabeth

TimesLIVE reports that Eastern Cape police have warned e-hailing taxis to take extra care when picking up passengers.  This came after Kwazakhele’s visible policing unit arrested two suspects on Thursday for allegedly hijacking a taxi.  Police spokesperson Capt Sandra Janse van Rensburg said the complainant had been driving down Mahambehlala Street in Kwazakhele, Port Elizabeth, at about 3.45pm and when he stopped, one of the suspects approached his vehicle and fiddled with the keys in the ignition.  She went on to explain:  “The complainant grabbed the keys and a scuffle ensued.  A second suspect approached from the passenger side and allegedly used a taser on the complainant, and forced him out of his vehicle.  The complainant ran away and the suspects drove off with his vehicle.”  Later, the police stopped a vehicle matching the stolen car’s description and arrested two suspects, who are expected to appear in the New Brighton Magistrate’s court soon.  Janse van Rensburg said taxi drivers should be vigilant while waiting for clients and always take note of their surroundings.  “Drivers should keep their doors and windows locked and, where possible, try to keep the engine running so that if a driver suspects any danger may befall him, he can drive off immediately,” she advised.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Riaan Marais at TimesLIVE


MINING LABOUR

Mineral Resources commemorates five years since collapse of Lily Mine and loss of three lives

Mining Weekly reports that on the fifth anniversary of the Lily Mine collapse, the Department of Minerals Resources and Energy (DMRE) conveyed its sadness at the loss of three miners.  On 5 February 2016, there was a cave-in at the mine, in Barberton, Mpumalanga.  An above-ground lamp room container, in which three miners were working at the time of the cave-in, was engulfed in a hole at the entrance to the mine’s decline shaft.  Efforts to recover the container have thus far been unsuccessful as a result of underground instability.  The DMRE completed an inquiry into the cause of the accident and a report was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions in August 2018.  In line with the report’s recommendation, an administrative fine of R1-million was issued to the mine’s owner, Vantage Goldfields, in September 2020.  This week the DMRE noted its “great concern” at the prolonged business rescue process that has been underway since the mine shut following financial difficulties as a result of not being able to operate.  Vantage CEO Mike McChesney recently advised that the Lily Mine was no longer up for sale and that the company had decided to re-finance it, with the initial focus to be on the retrieval of the bodies of the three miners.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard at Mining Weekly

Minerals Council survey shows 21% of miners in SA have Covid-19 antibodies

Mining Weekly reports that the Minerals Council SA (MCSA) last year announced plans to undertake a series of surveys to better understand the progression of Covid-19 in local mining operations and it has recently received the results of the first phase of seroprevalence surveys.  The results show that the number of individuals with antibodies to Covid-19 was 21%.  The surveys were conducted by two large companies towards the end of 2020.  MCSA health head Dr Thuthula Balfour on Thursday advised that the council planned to conduct two more rounds of surveys to add to the body of knowledge available on the disease.  To date, the SA mining industry, which comprises 471,962 individuals, has experienced 27,943 positive cases of Covid-19, with 1,193 currently being active.  The council also reported that, to date, Covid-19 has resulted in the death of 301 people in the industry, while 26,449 of those who tested positive having recovered thus far.  Of the total deaths, patients with one or more comorbidity accounted for 82.1%.  Within the industry, the platinum sector has thus far accounted for the most cases and deaths.  Also, the mining industry, which has developed significant Covid-19 testing capability, has thus far undertaken 106,744 tests.  

Read the full original of the report in the above regard at Mining Weekly

Other labour / community posting(s) relating to mining

  • Sibanye-Stillwater appoints Richard Cox new South African gold head, at Mining Weekly


BEE EMPOWERMENT

In empowerment boost, Coca-Cola SA triples employee stake in the business, enables employee representation on board

BL Premium reports that Coca-Cola Beverages SA (CCBSA) on Friday announced that it would transfer an additional 10% of shares to its employees, in a move to enhance its black economic empowerment (BEE) status and meet its revised merger conditions.  The announcement means that 8,000 employees who already hold 5% of the private company will now own 15% and, along with other partners, the company will be 20% black-owned.  The transaction, the value of which was not disclosed, will be vendor financed and will run for 10 years.  Employees will receive trickle dividends from day one.  CCBSA also announced that it would enable trade unions to appoint two independent trustees to serve on the board of directors to give further effect to the empowerment effort.  When CCBSA merged with three bottling operations in 2016, among the conditions set by the Competition Tribunal was that the company take on a BEE partner.  Friday’s announcement followed a variation of the agreement made final last week.  MD Velaphi Ratshefola said:  “It’s not just the financial benefit of the scheme but also the fact that the employees have representation on the board and can shape the outcome of the business. That is real empowerment.”  Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel described the CCBSA scheme as one of the biggest employee ownership schemes in SA and said it would “strengthen a more inclusive transformation and BEE model”.

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


STAFF RETRENCHMENTS / COMPANY JOB CUTS

Communications Minister fails to stop SABC cutting 303 jobs

Mail & Guardian reports that the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will continue with the retrenchment of 303 workers, despite interventions from Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams.  The public broadcaster’s acting spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo indicated:  It must be noted that following an extensive consultation process with various stakeholders, this process has been concluded and is currently being implemented.  At this stage, affected employees are applying for available vacancies as identified in the new organisational structure, and interviews have started and offers for successful candidates are being finalised.  In addition, several early retirements have been accepted.”  In January, Ndabeni-Abrahams wrote to the SABC board and recommended that it should find alternative ways to avoid retrenchment and save jobs.  Her suggestions included the upskilling, reskilling and redeployment of workers.  Ndabeni also requested a full plan of how the SABC would undertake this, and that it be submitted to parliament.  This was despite a recent labour court ruling that the SABC’s retrenchment process was lawful and above board.  The broadcaster said, although it was open to considering some of the minister’s alternatives, it would not reopen talks on retrenchment.  According to Seapolelo, the SABC was also considering freezing salary increases for up to three years after consultation with organised labour.  Annual leave could also be reduced from 35 to 28 days.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Chris Gilili at Mail & Guardian

Communications minister Ndabeni-Abrahams denies she made offer to hire retrenched SABC staffers

BusinessLive reports that according to the communications ministry, the board of the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) misinterpreted an alternative job cuts proposal from Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in respect of the public broadcaster.  In a letter that came to light on Wednesday, SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said the communications and technologies department could absorb workers in support functions such marketing, IT and human resources if the SABC was unable to find space for them.  However, departmental spokesperson Mish Molakeng said the letter misinterpreted correspondence from Ndabeni-Abrahams laying out alternatives to job cuts.  “The ministry of communications and digital technologies has never made an offer to absorb staff members retrenched from the SABC.  The ministry proposed to the SABC board that it should look into developing a mitigation plan aimed at minimising the impact of retrenchments on affected employees,” Molakeng stated.  He added:  “The ministry continues to support the SABC to find viable solutions both to ensure financial sustainability of the entity through the implementation of the turnaround strategy, while equally ensuring prospects are available for SABC employees who may be retrenched.”

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Bekezela Phakathi at BusinessLive

Over 200 employees axed as Putco becomes the latest casualty of Covid-19 restrictions

BL Premium reports that bus operator Putco has retrenched more than 200 employees after its operations were hit by the Covid-19 restrictions.  The restrictions resulted in fewer passengers while the costs of disinfecting buses and buying staff personal protective equipment mounted.  Putco, which belongs to Larimar Group, operates a fleet of 1,400 buses and transports more than 210,000 passengers a day in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.  It has more than 3,600 employees.  Putco pointed out that during some lockdown levels it was not permitted to operate private or commercial buses and could only transport essential workers in buses running at 50% capacity, thus losing money on each trip.  Covid-19 regulations simultaneously increased Putco's costs, as it was required to disinfect buses before and after each trip and sanitise each passenger when boarding a bus.  It also had to pay for personal protective equipment for staff.  By contrast, government regulations allowed taxis to run at full capacity for much of the lockdown.

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


FAKE QUALIFICATIONS

'Fake' advocate handed 10-year sentence in Bloemfontein court

News24 reports that a ‘fake’ Free State advocate has been convicted of fraud for impersonating a defence attorney.  Ntate Manuel Mabesa, 53, was handed 10 years' direct imprisonment in the Bloemfontein Regional Court on Wednesday after he was found guilty on charges of fraud, impersonating an attorney and perjury.  "It is alleged that in June 2014 Mabesa approached the prosecutor and offered him R500 gratification as a thank you for not opposing bail in a case where Mabesa was the defence attorney in a robbery case," Hawks spokesperson Captain Christopher Singo reported.  The prosecutor initiated a background check on Mabesa and, after establishing he had offices at the Free State Bar, handed the matter to the Hawks for investigation.  "[A] preliminary probe by the Hawks' Serious Corruption Investigation team revealed that Mabesa was admitted as an advocate by the Bar council.  The High Court was also approached for documentation and his degree from the University of the Free State, amongst the documents, was confirmed to be fraudulent after following the verification process," Singo indicated.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Nicole McCain at News24


MEDICAL SCHEMES

Public servants get Gems subsidy increase, but say it’s cold comfort amid salary dispute

BL Premium reports that the Public Servants Association (PSA) says an increase in the subsidy for medical scheme contributions for state employee is cold comfort amid a battle between the government and public servants over salary increases.  The Department of Public Service & Administration announced on Thursday that public servants would be awarded an 8.51% increase in the subsidy towards their medical scheme contributions, effective from 1 January.  The adjustment, in line with the medical price index, applies to employees on the Government Employees Medical Scheme (Gems), as well as to all former employees belonging to a registered medical scheme.  “It’s not a victory in a sense because members will still pay more [towards medical aid contributions],” Reuben Maleka of the PSA commented.  He pointed out that the union had called for Gems to freeze premium increases:  “We expected Gems to freeze the member increase that was implemented in January.  We had no salary increase … Gems must freeze members’ increase until the salaries dispute is resolved.”  Meantime, public sector unions have approached the Constitutional Court to challenge a labour court ruling that upheld government’s refusal to implement an April 2020 salary increase that had originally been agreed upon in 2018.  

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Bekezela Phakathi at BusinessLive (paywall access only). Read too, Government workers get increased medical scheme subsidy, at SowetanLive


SUSPENSIONS

CEO of Road Traffic Infringement Agency placed on precautionary suspension

BL Premium reports that the CEO of the agency responsible for adjudicating and enforcing road traffic fines has been placed under suspension on full pay pending a forensic investigation into allegations of serious maladministration highlighted in a report by the auditor-general.  The Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) said in a statement on Friday that the suspension of CEO and registrar Japh Chuwe and a number of other senior officials would take immediate effect.  “The decision comes pursuant to the 2019/2020 audit findings by the auditor-general of SA on allegations of serious maladministration by the registrar and these officials, and from several whistle-blower reports,” the statement indicated.  The precautionary suspensions were undertaken to allow the forensic investigators unfettered access to the information required to conduct it.  Pending the outcome of the investigation and any possible disciplinary process arising therefrom, the board has appointed Mncedisi Bilikwana, currently head of legal and governance, as acting registrar and CEO.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Linda Ensor at BusinessLive. Read too, Road Traffic Infringement Agency suspends its CEO over maladministration claims, at TimesLIVE

 


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