Firms urged to apply for worker relief as lockdown easing looms

30 April 2020 by Jeff Wicks

Arms of the state are gearing up for the eased reopening of the economy – with a downgrade of the national lockdown expected to result in nearly 1.5 million South Africans returning to work.

The National Command Council – established to oversee the response of the Covid-19 crisis – will make a final determination on the finer points of which sectors will be allowed to work on Thursday, and then communicate the message to the nation.

This is according to tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, chairperson of the economic ministry cluster which held a briefing on Tuesday.

She said in the risk-adjusted approach, championed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, there would be a phasing-in of key economic sectors with a view to reviving the SA fiscus, with stringent safety measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.  

“If government does not coordinate the response there is a risk of more job losses and the contracting of the economy to never-before-seen levels,” she said.

Kubayi-Ngubane said state debt-relief measures had been plotted over a period of eight months, to include the projected peaking of Covid-19 infections in September.

“Further support for firms will come from a R200bn loan scheme for small and medium businesses, to be announced later this week,” she added.

If government does not coordinate the response there is a risk of more job losses and the contracting of the economy to never-before-seen levels.

Tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

She said the mining sector too had begun to unfurl, with the department of mineral resources issuing a directive for mines to begin start-up procedures to ramp up to 50% productivity.

“Safety measures, including rigorous screening, testing of employees with symptoms of Covid-19, adequate social distancing, quarantine facilities for employees showing symptoms, and provision of [personal protective equipment] should be in place,” she said.  

This phase-in would take place in conjunction with organised labour.

Speaking of her own ministry, Kubayi-Ngubane said a legal challenge brought by AfriForum and Solidarity over BEE criteria for access to a R200m Tourism Relief Fund had not resulted in a complete loss of time.

“While we have not paid out any funds because of the court challenge, we took a legal opinion on whether we could still process applications and that is what we have been doing,” she said.

The matter was set down for hearing on Tuesday in the Pretoria High Court, with judgment reserved and expected to be handed down on Friday.

In its legal challenge AfriForum held that it was unfair that white-owned businesses in the tourism sector would not be able to apply for relief, while the virus had indiscriminately decimated the sector as a whole.

Kubayi-Ngubane said 10,000 applications had been received by the fund, and the department was engaging with stakeholders to put a recovery strategy in place when the disease was either cured or eradicated.

Central to the labour department’s response effort was a special fund operated by the Unemployment for Covid-19 claims, and Kubayi-Ngubane said the fund had received 10,000 applications. About 59,000 of these had been processed, meaning more than 800,000 workers would be compensated.   

“The UIF is working around the clock to address the volume of requests because of the pandemic. The UIF call centre has gone to 400 agents, increasing from 75 before the crisis. More agents will be added if the need arises,” she said.

On a point of clarity, labour minister Thulas Nxesi called on employers to support their workers through government-funded relief efforts.

“Employers are not assisting their employees to claim. We have 220,000 workers entitled to claim who have not yet done so, and we are trying to contact those individuals now. Some employers have done nothing to help their workers and we appeal to them to please help us.”

Source: Dispatch Live at https://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/2020-04-30-firms-urged-to-apply-for-worker-relief-as-lockdown-easing-looms/