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Post Covid-19: An Opinion Piece

Lessons and Direction for our Labour Market, Workplaces and Society in General.

Written by Glen Cormack, the Fairness Institute.

Part 4

The issue of broadband data availability and access must be a feature of this recovery plan. If anything, Covid-19 has expedited the realities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the role of on-line transactions by years – be they business or learning.

Enough of government, let us focus now on employers and employees. Employers must be at least compliant with basic labour legislation requirements. And by this, I mean all employers! “Emerging” employers often demonstrate their belief that these laws do not apply to them. Childminders, taxi drivers, small shop employees are prime examples of employees that do not all enjoy the protection of the law. The Department of Employment and Labour’s inspectorate arm should be strengthened to ensure this occurs, as should employee awareness programmes.

The national minimum wage (NMW) has proven to benefit approx. 5 million employees but unquestionably led to hundreds of thousands of job losses or possible new jobs being put on hold. Whilst I believe that the NMW should be closer to at least R5000/month, the desperate situation we are experiencing now with unemployment touching on 50%, could call for a relaxation of the minimum wage for a 1 to the 2 years for new appointees. The existing unfair dismissal protections should limit the replacement of existing employees with those willing to accept a lesser income. This may well see us experience previous levels of exploitation but the maxim of “something is better than nothing” may have relevance for this exceptional restart period. A dogmatic approach to setting minimum levels of pay does result in a dogmatic response. We are not yet the caring and humanitarian society we dream of.

How often have we heard the visionary statement of “Employees are our most valuable assets”? Are they treated as the most valuable? Whilst this may sound gross, are they cared for and maintained as well as our other workplace assets are? Racism, discrimination, and gross unfairness must be eradicated from our workplaces. Denying the existence and prevalence of these workplace horrors may be our largest obstacle in eliminating them. Employers cannot now deny the socio-economic challenges poor people, and I include the working poor in this definition, experience. The Covid-19 lockdown surfaced the horrific pictures of elderly or vulnerable people queuing for hours and even days for their grants. Of kilometre long food queues. Of densely crowded squatter camps or slums that we now euphemistically call informal settlements. Of schools and whole regions without access to clean water and sanitation.

And of our employees live in those tin and plastic shacks. The children of some of our employees attend those schools. Of our employees’ struggle in their travels to work in unhealthy, overcrowded and dilapidated public transport systems. The challenge for employers is how to improve these circumstances for those people working for them – their most valued assets. This can start by employers taking a soul-searching look in the mirror, especially but not only previously or currently privileged persons. Then they could undertake a fact-finding initiative. Going to each employee’s residence, looking at their circumstances; getting to know which schools their children attend; looking at the standards and norms that prevail there; understanding the child-minding challenges employees face; the travel struggles they face; what health services and resources are available in these areas; what is the job seeking challenges existing in their homes?

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