SUMMARY: Labour Department briefs SA on going back to work

Labour inspectors say a risk assessment must be done at vulnerable workplaces and if social distancing can't be implemented, alternative plans must be made.

JOHANNESBURG - Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi briefed the media on the back-to-work readiness on Sunday ahead of the return of over one million employees to work.

National lockdown regulations have been eased to Level 4 across the country but the government is emphasising that a return to work does not mean "business as usual".

Nxesi said a directive to employers on ensuring minimal risk to employees has already been issued.

The minister said the outlines must be adhered to before reopening businesses.

WATCH: Labour minister briefs SA on back-to-work readiness

Nxesi said measures taken by employers must be consistent with the national strategies to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The disaster management regulations must be read in conjunction with the existing occupational health and safety act.

The Minister said employers are responsible for notifying workers of how regulations will be undertaken.

Nxesi said employers should grant paid sick leave to employees showing symptoms of COVID-19, a representative of the workers must be assigned to relay concerns to management, and educate employees on prevention of the virus.

Employers must screen workers for fever, cough, sore throat, redness of eyes, loss of taste and smell, weakness or tiredness, among other symptoms when entering the workplace.

Nxesi said workers also have the responsibility to communicate their concerns, risks and possible infection to the employee.

He said employers must ensure well-ventilated and well-sanitized workspaces and provide employees with at least two cloth masks and other PPEs.

Those who fail to comply will be shutdown.

Nxesi said inspectors will be deployed to monitor that businesses meat regulations.

He admitted it would be difficult to monitor over one million businesses but calls on employees to report those flouting regulations.

Nxesi said he is aware of some of the shortcomings of the UIF, including that it doesn't make provision for the informal sector and freelancers and the department will work to address the loopholes ASAP.

"If businesses want to operate they must accept the financial costs associated with it. Nobody planned for this COVID All of us will have to go an extra mile. It's either you do this or put people's lives at risk," the minister said.

Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi explained some of the changes already made to the UIF to deal with the effects of retrenchments. 

"The introduction of the COVID-19 TERS Benefit Scheme and the attendant massive increase in claims required that we completely redesign the architecture and supporting systems of the UIF claims process," Moloi said.

The department will be moving from individual walk-in claims to mass distribution hubs through online applications supported by the Call Centre for enquiries. 

READ: Impact of the coronavirus on South Africa's economy

The call centre number is 080 003 0007.

The bulk disbursements of the scheme benefits of R5.3 billion through bargaining councils and employers and are intended to reach 98,000 employers and 1.1 million workers.

A further R2.4 billion in COVID-19 TERS benefits has been cleared for payment on Monday morning to 29,000 employers.

There are still a number of outstanding claims which are still to be processed – from 74,000 employers, representing 481 thousand workers and an amount of R1.9 billion in benefits.

SARS has already validated 87 percent of these claims and these shall be paid next week according to the deputy minister.

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