Written by Glen Cormack, the Fairness Institute.
So, what lessons have we learnt? Firstly, the positives – and there are many. Thousands of employers came out with genuine displays of concern for the people in their employ.
I am aware of many instances where employers dipped into their private resources to pay employees even when their businesses were locked down. I am aware of many instances where employers reached out to support either direct or indirect feeding schemes that covered the communities within which employees live. I am aware of hundreds of employers who struggled and some still struggling with the bureaucracy and frustrating UIF systems to ensure employees receive the relief scheme benefits they are entitled to. I am aware of many corporates that have made significant donations to relief schemes for vulnerable employees and wider communities.
I am aware of many instances where unions have stood solidly behind calls for adherence to health and safety standards for all employees, not just their members – at individual workplaces and across sectors. I am aware of many instances where employers and organised labour engaged genuinely in seeking joint solutions to the challenges Covid-19 surfaced. I am also aware of government departments and officials who have worked tirelessly to address policy and regulation issues the disaster thrust upon us collectively.
I am aware of thousands or even millions of essential service employees who put their lives on the line to serve the public, despite their personal fears of the killer virus threatening their wellbeing – fear and anxiety that one could visibly see in their eyes. I am aware of the millions of employees that adhered to the lockdown restrictions, staying at home where they could; practicing social distancing to the best level they could; wearing masks and washing their hands where they could.
As with any society in the world, Covid-19 in South Africa also surfaced negative behaviours, despicable and uncaring behaviours, behaviours that directly threatened people’s lives and health. Thousands of employees have been either sent home unpaid or unfairly dismissed since the introduction of lockdown. Some employers have embezzled monies from UIF relief schemes meant for employees. Police and SANDF members have brutalised some members of vulnerable communities for behaviours that at best warranted counselling, killing 11 persons.
Two hundred and thirty thousand (230,000) people have been arrested for non-compliance with one of the most draconian lockdowns in the world. How many of those arrested were employees forced to stay at home? Do employers even know? Do employers know the circumstances under which the people live that are working for them? Do they know the standard of housing employees live in? Do they know if their employees had or have access to clean water and/or sanitation? Do they know if their employees have access to food for their families? Countless domestic workers have discovered they had not been registered by their employers with the UI Fund.
Numerous instances of employees either in essential services or returning to work, having contracted Covid-19 have occurred. Some workplaces have been closed-down due to health risks to employees. Hundreds of employees have been sent home to practice isolation, with employers having no idea if this is practical or even possible for them. Millions of economically active but unemployed people have been locked down without any access to any relief schemes – literally left to go hungry at best or starve at worst. Three weeks after announcing a R350/month for six months relief scheme a mere ten, yes ten, people had been paid this grant despite 800,000 applications for the same. Too many instances of inadequate PPE resources for health care workers have been reported. ICU beds are occupied by the very health workers employed at hospitals where they contracted Covid-19 from patients they were caring for.
Part 3 in the next edition of GPS News.