Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi says workers have the right to refuse to go to work if they feel employers have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus in the workplace. More people are expected to go back to work from 1 June following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa will be moving to alert Level 3 lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19.
The Minister says all workers must wear masks in the workplace and employers should provide at least two reusable face masks, free of charge.
Employers that will be reopening their businesses under Level 3 are also required to appoint a COVID-19 compliance officer, undertake risk assessment of the workplace and develop a plan for the return to work.
Nxesi called on employers, both public and private, to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic.
Below are key draft changes to ensure the safety of workers under the Level 3 lockdown:
- Employers have an obligation towards workers with health issues and those over 60, as scientific evidence indicates that they are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
- Workers that came into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case or those diagnosed with COVID-19 must be placed under 14-day quarantine.
- Everyone must wear a mask in the workplace. Employers must provide workers with at least two masks.
- Workers have the right to refuse to go to work if they have reason to believe that necessary precautions to stop the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace have not been taken. Workers can approach the CCMA should this issue lead to dismissal.
- Employers may not deduct the cost of COVID-19 precautions from workers’ salaries/wages.
Nxesi says workplaces have the following obligations:
- The right number of workers in the workplace.
- Office space and factory floors are in a desirable state.
- Cleanliness and hygiene are prioritised.
Nxesi says inspections conducted on Monday of 72 workplaces found only 44 companies to be compliant.
“We need to change behaviour in response to the dangers posed by COVID-19. This message has not embedded itself in the consciousness of many employers – according to what we see in our statistics,” the minister said.
Nxesi says inspections will continue.
According to the Labour Minister, since the start of the lockdown – the UIF has committed over R17 billion and paid out just over R15 billion in COVID-19 relief benefits to 3 million workers through 200 000 employers and bargaining councils. He says they are still processing April applications and opened the May applications on Thursday.
EMPLOYER OBLIGATIONS FOR LOCKDOWN ALERT 3.
We will continue to process the April applications as well as resolve outstanding queries.
— Minister Thulas Nxesi (@NxesiThulas) May 29, 2020
“We believe that with the move to Alert Level 3, the financial burden on the UIF will be eased somewhat, as more and more people go back to work,” he said.
The Compensation Fund is expected to deal with cases of COVID-19 contracted on duty. One hundred and 16 claims have already been received, with the Labour Department accepting liability for 104 of the applications.
In the video below, the economic cluster briefs the media on Level 3 COVID-19 lockdown regulations: