news shutterstockIn our roundup of weekend news, see
summaries of our selection of South African
labour-related stories that appeared since
Friday, 19 February 2021.


OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY

Labour department probing deadly incident at ArcelorMittal’s Vanderbijlpark plant

BL Premium reports that the Department of Employment & Labour (DEL) has been brought in to investigate an incident that killed three workers at steel producer ArcelorMittal SA’s (Amsa’s) Vanderbijlpark plant last week.  The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the majority union at Amsa, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have called for the investigation to be “detailed and thorough”. Amsa confirmed on Thursday that three employees died from their injuries when “a portion of a 90m stack at one of the operation’s coke batteries failed and fell onto the coke battery control room in which the three employees were working”. The incident happened early on Wednesday. “All relevant authorities have been notified and have been on site. The company will co-operate fully with their investigations,” said CEO Kobus Verster. DEL chief inspector Tibor Szana said on Thursday that part of Amsa’s plant was closed down by the department’s inspection and enforcement services after the incident.  He said all incidents were preventable and urged employers to evaluate all structures on their premises, “using a person qualified to do so and to keep the records of each inspection of each such structure”.  He added:  “This is particularly vital in the light of ageing structures that may need replacing at some stage. The department can be contacted for advice in this regard.”

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

Uasa blasts Denel directors after two worker suicides

Engineering News reports that Uasa has reacted strongly to two reported suicides on the part of Denel workers last week. The trade union described the news as “distressing and heart-wrenching”. It accused the state-owned defence industrial group of “simply looking on” while its unpaid or underpaid employees struggled to pay their bills.   “Uasa has at several occasions emphatically underscored the plight not only of its members at the weapons manufacturer but of all employees who have gone without salaries since July 2020 or were paid a meagre percentage of what was owed them,” Uasa spokesperson Abigail Moyo said on Thursday. “That the dire situation is still not getting the attention it deserves from either government or the company’s board of directors is disheartening, particularly against the background of the directors being paid in full while neglecting to pay their employees,” she added.  Moyo explained that on top of the great stress imposed on the workers and their families caused by the company’s failure to pay them had come the additional stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. These stresses had been further exacerbated by the reopening of schools last week, with many Denel employees unable to meet the back-to-school needs of their children. The result was emotional and mental distress, which had in turn led two of the group’s workers “seeing no other option” but suicide.

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

Outdoor workers in SA wilt in increasing temperatures from climate change

Mail & Guardian reports that a recent study found how increasing temperatures in SA from climate change reduces the ability of people to work in sectors that usually have high exposure to heat, such as farming, construction, fishing and mining. Temperature rise due to climate change has negatively affected labour productivity in the country in recent decades and will keep damaging it, potentially to a higher extent than what has been previously estimated, the authors found. Retha Louw is the chief executive of the Sustainability Initiative of SA (Siza), which works with the agricultural sector to ensure ethical and environmentally sustainable trade. “For the producers who are part of the programme, looking towards audit outcomes and results, it’s clear that hats and sunscreen lotion are becoming part of personal protective equipment. It is not compulsory but as an example, it is becoming part of the risk analysis of a farm,” she pointed out.  “Agri-workers start earlier in the mornings to avoid the heat – again, legislation and the Siza standard make provision to monitor working hours, no matter when they start or when they work. If they work a night shift there is legislation included in the Siza standard to allow for a night shift allowance and the same is relevant to day shifts,” Louw stated. Caradee Wright from the Medical Research Council said employers needed to be more aware of temperature and sun exposure health risks — and how such risks affected productivity. “For sun exposure, there is no legislation or guideline in South Africa to protect against ocular and skin exposure, for example against sunburn, skin cancer and cataracts,” she noted.

Read the full original of the informative report in the above regard by Sheree Baga at Mail & Guardian


COVID-19 HEALTH & SAFETY

Private sector health workers allocated a third of first J&J Covid-19 vaccines

BL Premium reports that health workers in the private sector have been allocated one-third of the first batch of 80,000 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccines.  This was announced by the Department of Health on Sunday. The first private sector health-care worker was vaccinated on Saturday, and by the end of the day 3,000 shots had been administered amid demand "higher than anticipated from doctors and nurses". By Saturday, a total of 10,414 shots had been given across the country, the department reported. In response to the high demand, which led to long queues at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, the designated site for the first vaccines, the department said it and its private sector partners were dealing with a number of "process related issues" to reduce wait times. The delays and queues appeared to be related to the electronic voucher system, intended to ensure that only those with appointments arrived for vaccination.   The early access programme is being administered as part of an implementation trial. The drug has yet to be approved elsewhere in the world. The target is to vaccinate 8,000 health workers a day.

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

Other internet posting(s) in this news category

  • Covid-19 vaccination: Chaos at Tshwane's Steve Biko Hospital as doctors queue for jabs, at News24


COVID-19 RELIEF FUNDS

Stemming from findings of AG’s probe, seven UIF officials to face hearings for alleged Ters fraud

BL Premium reports that Thobile Lamati, director-general of the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) told MPs on Friday that disciplinary hearings against Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) managers would take place this week.  The hearings follow a recommendation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) that charges be brought against the seven officials, including three senior and four middle managers.  The SIU’s recommendation was based on the outcome of its investigation into the UIF’s supply chain management system following findings by the Auditor-General of SA (AG) of fraud and payment irregularities under the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) for workers affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.  Lamati told MPs that charge sheets had been compiled and handed to the implicated officials and relevant authorities.  He said the suspended officials, including the UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping, and chief directors responsible for operations and labour activation programmes as well as the director of supply chain management, would remain on suspension pending the finalisation of the SIU investigation and lifestyle audits.  In September Maruping, and the fund’s CFO, COO and the head of the supply chain management were placed on precautionary suspension on full pay following a probe into Ters by the late AG, Kimi Makwetu. The officials were suspended pending a forensic investigation by the SIU.

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

Deadline for Early Childhood Development (ECD) relief fund applications extended by a week

News24 reports that the Department of Social Development has announced that the deadline for applications for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Stimulus Relief Fund has been extended to Friday, 26 February.   The previous deadline was 19 February. This will allow principals an extra week to apply for a share of the R496 million lifeline. The R496 million fund has been established to assist ECD facilities – including crèches, daycare services and nurseries – that have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the application process opened on 5 February. Many of these facilities couldn't open for months due to government regulations. After reopening, many pupils did not return due to financial constraints at home.  The department came under fire when the C-19 People's Coalition's ECD and Basic Education Working Group called for an extension of the deadline.  C-19 spokesperson Colleen Daniels-Horswell pointed out that two weeks were not enough for ECD school principals to submit applications and that many were struggling to navigate the application process. She pointed out that by Monday, only 9,717 out of 29,836 ECD principals/owners who had started the application process had successfully completed their applications. The application process needed to be streamlined, said Daniels-Horswell, as the digital platform through which principals needed to apply made the process difficult for those without computer literacy.  The department said that any ECD service that required assistance could visit the local social development offices.

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


MINING LABOUR

Outgoing Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland’s biggest regret is worker fatalities

Moneyweb reports that outgoing Gold Fields chief executive Nick Holland says his biggest regret during the 13 years he has been at the helm of the gold producer is the high number of employee fatalities.   Over 120 employees have passed away in the line of duty at Gold Fields, including nine who succumbed to Covid-19 related illnesses in 2020. On his first day as CEO, nine people died at the company’s South Deep operations when a vent hole raise conveyance in which they were travelling became dislodged and fell more than 60 metres. Within the same week, a driller’s assistant died in a fall-of-ground accident and another four other miners died following an underground accident at the group’s Driefontein mine. The company would go on to record a total of 47 fatalities in 2008 alone, which led Holland to declare in the company’s 2008 annual report that the company would not continue to mine if it could not guarantee the safety of employees. By 2019, he had reduced total group fatalities to one, which was recorded at South Deep. “That sort of hit me very hard on the first day,” Holland said on Thursday during an announcement of the company’s 2020 results. He said his commitment to safety once led him to shut down all of the group’s mines in SA and put 35,000 people on the surface because he was unhappy with “some of the things we were doing and had to do”. “Losing people to fatalities is something that shouldn’t happen in our game and we are all working hard to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries,” Holland said. He will step down at the end of March, and will hand over the baton to former Anglo American Platinum chief executive Chris Griffith, whom Holland says shares similar sentiments to him regarding the importance of safety.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Thando Maeko at Moneyweb <https://www.moneyweb.co.za/mineweb/outgoing-gold-fields-ceo-worker-fatalities-are-my-biggest-regret/>

SSC disputes Vantage Goldfields’ plan to self-fund reopening of Lily, Barbrook mines

Mining Weekly reports that according to minerals investment company the SSC Group, it will be up to the creditors and affected persons to ultimately decide the way forward for the Lily and Barbrook mines, and not the current owner, Vantage Goldfields.  This was indicated following Vantage CEO Mike McChesney’s recent comments that neither of the mines were for sale and that their reopening would be undertaken by Vantage. SSC CEO Fred Arendse called for Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to intervene in the matter.  He noted that SSC was one of the biggest creditors of both Vantage and Barbrook mines and formed part of the bidder that has been at the forefront of trying to reopening the mines, "prior to business rescue practitioners (BRPs) Rob Devereux and Daniel Terblanche, reneging on their undertaking to publish the detailed and fully funded amended business rescue plans on January 20".  According to Arendse, Vantage “has yet to produce any proof of funding demonstrating their ability to pay any of the creditors or mine employees.” SSC noted that the Vantage proposal provided no detail on any feasible and implementable plans to reopen the mines or on how it proposed to retrieve the container in which three mineworkers were buried when a part of the mine collapsed in 2016.

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


SKILLS / IMMIGRATION

No welcome sign for immigrants in Department of Home Affairs’ draft critical skills list

BL Premium reports that after a two-year delay, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) on Thursday published a draft of the "critical skills list" — occupations earmarked for skilled immigration — identifying 126 narrowly defined jobs for eligibility. The promise that the list would be published last week was made in the state of the nation speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said he was aware it was long overdue but would finally be done.   In terms of the list, people with a critical skill — which must be an "exceptional skill" — can apply for a visa to SA under the Immigration Act. The red tape associated with skilled immigration has been a burning concern for business for two decades, which regards it as both a hindrance to doing business and a brake on economic growth. However, the new draft list is notable in its restrictive approach and does not depart from earlier policy approaches, which have lent towards making skilled immigration difficult. The list, which is available on the DHA website, has been published for comment. A technical document accompanying it states that it will be further whittled down and refined by the DHA. The criteria for inclusion in the list are: an acute shortage; a high level or advanced qualification; would take a long time to develop domestically; and can be of strategic importance. Included are a range of high-skill jobs in IT, engineering, geology, nursing, pharmacy and accounting as well as a range where softer skills are required, such as marketing, communications, advertising and web design. Technical jobs on the list include carpenter, joiner, diesel mechanic, transport electrician and lift engineer.

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


DOWNSIZING

Massmart to cut additional Masscash stores as it grapples with a sales hit from Covid-19 pandemic

BusinessLive reports that Massmart intends to sell an additional 14 Masscash stores as it continues a turnaround drive and grapples with a R6bn sales hit from Covid-19.  The company, whose brands include Makro and Game and which is owned by the world’s largest grocer Walmart, announced a turnaround plan in January 2020, as well as the potential closure of 34 DionWired and Masscash stores. The announcement of additional disposals on Friday comes on the heels of news that the sale of eight of the Masscash stores will save 640 jobs, with the group still seeking buyers for three more. Massmart had 130 Masscash stores at the end of its 2019 year, generating about a third of group’s R93.7bn in sales. Massmart had been grappling with rising costs even before the pandemic struck. Walmart veteran Mitchell Slape took over as CEO of Massmart in September 2019, and is driving a turnaround strategy that involves the rationalisation of the group’s store portfolio, and the reorganisation of its four divisions into two.

Read the full original of the report in the above regard by Karl Gernetzky at BusinessLive


MEDICAL SCHEMES

Government Employees Medical Scheme rocked by corruption allegations totalling over R300 million

News24 reports that the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), which is positioning itself to administer the National Health Insurance (NHI) fund, has been rocked by allegations of tender rigging, fraud, maladministration and corruption totalling more than R300 million. The accusations of graft at GEMS are detailed in a series of 10 explosive forensic reports which show that over a period of five years the scheme had appointed and paid more than R300 million to companies in which some of its executives had direct financial interests. Following a tip-off, in May 2017 GEMS appointed Ligwa Advisory Services, a firm of independent auditors, to investigate allegations of fraud and corruption in a number of contracts entered into between the scheme and certain companies between 2012 and 2017. In January 2018, Ligwa presented GEMS with a series of hard-hitting forensic reports accusing former executives, in particular Bhelekazi "Bella" Mfenyana, Dr Guni Goolab and Liziwe Nkonyana, of wrongdoing. Goolab, who left GEMS at the end of January last year, was the scheme's principal officer, while Mfenyana and Nkonyana, who both left in April 2017, were respectively contracts manager and communications executive. Ligwa Services, which also conducted lifestyle audits on some of GEMS' executives, uncovered irregularities and possible fraud and corruption in the appointments and payments made to various service providers. GEMS spokesperson Dr Phumelela Dhlomo said GEMS has been quite transparent in dealing with all issues emanating from Ligwa's reports.

Read the full original of the detailed report in the above regard by Sipho Masondo at News24


OTHER REPORTS

Week ahead will see release of labour force survey, Mboweni’s budget and outcome of Cosatu’s CEC meeting

In its diary for the week ahead, BL Premium reports that on Tuesday Statistics SA will hold a media briefing to release the results of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2020.  Finance minister Tito Mboweni will provide details of government spending and revenue collection proposals aimed at helping SA address its socio-economic challenges when he delivers his budget speech on Wednesday.  Union federation Cosatu will hold its three-day ordinary central executive committee meeting from Monday to Wednesday and the outcomes will be communicated at a media conference on Thursday.  Parliament’s portfolio committee on trade & industry will table a status report on the implementation of master plans for the economy on Tuesday.  President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during his recent state of the nation address that sector master plans — which are part of the social compact between the government, labour, business, and communities — were key to rejuvenating and growing crucial industries.  The master plans that have been completed include the poultry master plan which has resulted in the sector investing R800bn to upgrade production; and the sugar master plan whereby large sugar users will procure at least 80% of their sugar needs from local growers.  According to Ramaphosa, the clothing, textile, footwear and leather master plan lad to the sector investing R500m to expand local manufacturing facilities, including small, medium and micro enterprises.

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


OTHER HEADLINES OF INTEREST

  • The big jobs bounce-back sees 2-million jobs return, but will they stay? at Financial Mail
  • Opinion: Textiles rebate could lead to more decent jobs and grow local sector, at BusinessLive

 


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