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THE CORONAVIRUS: IMPLICATIONS FOR EMPLOYERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

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Introduction

The Department of Health has confirmed seventeen cases of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in South Africa. There is a strong likelihood that there will be other cases of Covid-19 across the country. Naturally, employers will need to bear in mind various employment and health & safety considerations to manage the risk of Covid-19 in the workplace.

This article identifies the key legal considerations from an employment and health & safety perspective and provides advice on practical steps employers can take to safeguard employees. Please note that given the constant development of Covid-19, the answers to the questions detailed below will also develop.

  1. What is the coronavirus?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes coronaviruses as a “family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases”. At the end of 2019, a novel strain of the coronavirus (now known as Covid-19) broke out in Wuhan, China. Since the outbreak, the WHO has reported that there are over 98 000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across almost 90 countries, including certain African countries (South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt). To date, approximately 3 400 people have died after contracting Covid-19.

At the end of January 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak of Covid-19 as a public health emergency of international concern.

  1. What are the common symptoms associated with Covid-19?

Coid-19 is a highly transmissible illness. The symptoms of Covid-19 initially mimic the symptoms of the common cold. General symptoms of Covid-19 are associated with the respiratory system and they include a fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

If left untreated or not treated correctly, infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and, in the worst case, death.

  1. From a health & safety perspective, what legal obligations does an employer have in light of the global outbreak of Covid-19?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 places an express obligation on the employer to maintain a working environment that is safe and healthy. On the issue of a healthy working environment, the employer must ensure that the workplace is free from any risk to the health of its employees as far as it is reasonably practicable. Within the context of Covid-19, there is a clear obligation on the employer to manage the risk of contamination in the workplace.

Practically, the employer can ensure a healthy working environment by ensuring that the workplace is clean and hygienic, promoting regular hand-washing by employees, promoting good respiratory hygiene by employees and keeping employees informed on developments related to Covid-19.

  1. What practical steps can an employer take to ensure that the workplace is safeguarded from Covid-19?

As an initial step, the employer should conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine the likelihood of contamination in the workplace. This assessment should include a contingency and business continuity plan should there be an outbreak of the illness. At this stage, given that South Africa only has one confirmed case of Covid-19, the risk of contamination is low.

However, employers should consider the following proactive steps given the scale of the illness globally –

  • Follow health advice and information: the employer should follow health advice from the WHO (as an international source) and the Department of Health and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (as local sources).
  • Communicate with employees: the employer should consistently provide updates on Covid-19 to employees and its approach at work regarding attendance and preventing the spread of infection. The employer may also wish to display posters that provide information on the illness and hygiene.
  • Prevent the spread of infection: the employer should consider that there are adequate facilities for employees to wash and/or sanitise their hands regularly within the workplace. If it becomes necessary, the employer may introduce a designated area in the workplace where employees may self-isolate if they experience symptoms whilst at work. The WHO has advised that, in countries where the illness has started spreading, employees with a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 or more) should be encouraged to stay at home and seek medical attention immediately.
  • Identify vulnerable workers: Covid-19 poses a greater risk to employees with weakened immune systems and long-term health conditions. Vulnerable workers include pregnant employees and disabled employees. Employers should pay special attention to such employees.
  • Update emergency contact information: employees should be required to review and update their emergency contact information.
  1. How should an employer manage employees who travel out of South Africa at this time?

The employer should issue clear travel guidelines to its employees on international travel, particularly to countries affected by Covid-19. The employer should distinguish between employees travelling for business or personal reasons.

Given the scale of the illness and if it is practical, the employer may elect to place a moratorium on business travel until such time as Covid-19 is contained. If this is not possible, a moratorium should be placed on business travel to affected countries.

It may be more challenging to regulate personal/holiday travel by employees. Employees should be encouraged not to travel to affected countries. Importantly, employees who nevertheless choose do so should not be allowed to immediately return to work after such travel. Such employees should be required to self-isolate (compulsory quarantine) for at least 14 days. Employees should be informed that they must take all reasonable steps to avoid exposure to the illness which may mean cancelling or postponing international travel until Covid-19 is contained.

The employer should also bear in mind that travel by employees to countries which are currently unaffected by Covid-19 could still pose a risk of infection as such countries may become affected at any time. In any event, at this stage, the risk of infection is high given the nature of travel, exposure to different people of different nationalities particularly on flights with multiple legs.

It is advisable for employers to consider requesting all employees to disclose international travel (to all countries) undertaken by them (or any person who they live with) since 1 February 2020. This may assist the employer with its risk assessment to determine the likelihood of contamination in the workplace.

  1. If any employee is placed under quarantine by the employer, should the employee be required to take sick leave?

If a medical doctor places an employee in quarantine, the employee should receive a medical certificate and in such circumstances, the employee will be on sick leave.

In the case of compulsory quarantine (ie quarantine required and enforced by the employer), the employee will not be on sick leave unless a medical certificate has been issued to the employee placing the employee in quarantine. An employer may require an employee to be quarantined if the employee recently travelled to an affected country or if the employee displays symptoms of the illness whilst at work. The employer could consider such an employee to be on special paid leave away from the office (depending on the nature of the work performed by such an employee). As an alternative to placing the employee on any type of leave, the employer could make it possible for the employee to work from home. The employer may need to put certain measures in place or assist such an employee to work from home if that is the arrangement. If it is not possible for the employee to work from home, the employer will not be able to deduct the period of quarantine as sick leave or annual leave as it was made compulsory by the employer. This will be a form of special paid leave that is over and above any other type of leave.

  1. What if an employee requests self-quarantine?

In the case of voluntary quarantine (i.e. quarantine at the request of the employee for precautionary purposes), the employee is not sick and therefore, sick leave should not be imposed. If employees are forced to take unpaid leave or annual leave in these circumstances, they may opt not to self-quarantine. We therefore recommend that this should also be treated as special paid leave. However, to the extent that the employee who requests self-quarantine can work from home, no leave will need to be awarded.

The employer must carefully consider the circumstances under which special paid leave will be awarded to employees. These circumstances must be made clear to employees. It should be an option of last resort as it may be open to abuse by employees.

If the illness spreads across South Africa, the reality for employers is that employees may request to be placed in quarantine to minimise their risk of infection. In this instance, the employer will need to consider implementing remote working for employees who can work from home. The guidelines above need to be applied to determine which form of leave will apply.

  1. What happens after the quarantine period?

After the quarantine period and even if an employee does not display any symptoms, the employer may nevertheless require the employee to be tested by a medical practitioner and to provide the employer with a medical certificate confirming that the employee can return to work.

  1. What is a reasonable period of quarantine?

The WHO has indicated that a person should be in quarantine for a period of at least 14 days.

  1. What if an employee contracts Covid-19?

In such an instance, the employer should apply its sick leave policy to such an employee. The employee must obtain a medical certificate and any time out of the office will be considered as sick leave.

Due to the nature of the illness, an employee with Covid-19 should not be permitted to return to work until that employee is cleared to do so by a medical practitioner.

Conclusion

In order to manage the risk of contamination effectively, employers should consider appointing an internal committee of professionals. The committee will be responsible for issues such as monitoring the spread of Covid-19, assessing the risk of contamination and taking measures to ensure that the workplace is healthy and safe. The committee should include representatives from the health & safety, human resources and risk and compliance departments of the employer.

Despite only seven confirmed case in South Africa, employers should act proactively within the context of Covid-19. Employers who are proactive will ensure that employees are protected and that business can continue to function as efficiently as possible.​

Ends

ESD CTA

REVEALING PROSPECTS

In this edition, we focus on learning, hence we turn to the Podcasts from Pavlo Phitidis who answers four key questions:

  1. Business Funding: How to Self-Fund Your Business through its Lifecycle
  2. How to Build a Business with Confidence amidst Uncertainty
  3. How to Build Your Business and Capitalise on a Seemingly Negative Business Environment
  4. How to Build a Resilient Business in a Technical Recession

For more Pavlo Phitidis podcasts, visit https://smallbusinesshub.seifsa.co.za/press/

This week we highlight:

The Alarming Truth about the Number
of Small Businesses in South Africa
Entering, Surviving, and Thriving, In a
New Industry Created by New Technologies
BUSINESS-FUNDING-HOW-TO-SELF-FUND-YOUR-BUSINESS-THROUGH-ITS-LIFECYCLE-Click-Here
Business Funding: How to Self-Fund
Your Business through Its Lifecycle

SBH Newsletter November 2018

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INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the third edition of the Small Business Hub (SBH) newsletter brought to you by SEIFSA.

It certainly was a busy few months for the team at the SBH. The partnership between Aurik and SEIFSA has certainly alerted us to some of the challenges faced in the Enterprise Development space. The team has had meetings with companies such as Harsco, Lixl, Komatsu, Columbus Steel, and Weir and Howden. We have listened to their experience in the Enterprise Development space in South Africa.

Most reported mixed results, and various levels of success. The Small Business Hub intends to ensure that ESD implementation in the Metals and Engineering industries becomes a consistent and successful experience for the majority of companies – and an intrinsic part of this process is to showcase smaller businesses and position them as potential suppliers to bigger businesses.

Small Business is definitely on everyone’s lips and the need to boost the fortunes of small business is acknowledged far and wide – by policy-makers, all political parties, unions, and the media, and even at the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. However, still lacking is a focused institutionalized, coordinated and well communicated response by the one stakeholder that can make all the difference – Government.

It is part of the reason why the SBH emphasizes “Connecting Resources” as part of its set of goals.

CONNECTING RESOURCES

SEIFSA to Host Enterprise Supplier Development Information Session:

“Clearing up the Confusion around ESD”

On 29 November, SEIFSA will host a session with its partner, Aurik, that will answer pertinent questions about the concept of Enterprise Supplier Development (ESD). Currently, there is lots of confusion about the subject. Bigger companies know that they need to implement it. Small companies know that they have an opportunity. However, the two very rarely seem to meet successfully around shared objectives.

SEIFSA and Aurik will clear up the confusion and answer the following questions:

  1. What is ESD?
  2. Why Big needs Small and Why Small needs Big
  3. How small businesses can be part of bigger supplier chains
  4. How do smaller businesses know if they are ready?
  5. How bigger businesses should structure and communicate their ESD imperatives
  6. ESD Approaches and Case Studies that work

Aurik expert and ESD strategist Ms Pamina Bohrer will lead the presentation and discussion on the day.

Therefore, if you are an ESD professional or a Small Business wanting to grow your order book and meet players in the Metals and Engineering industries, join SEIFSA at its offices on 29 November 2018.

ESD CTA

REVEALING PROSPECTS

In this edition, we focus on learning, hence we turn to the Podcasts from Pavlo Phitidis who answers four key questions:

  1. Business Funding: How to Self-Fund Your Business through its Lifecycle
  2. How to Build a Business with Confidence amidst Uncertainty
  3. How to Build Your Business and Capitalise on a Seemingly Negative Business Environment
  4. How to Build a Resilient Business in a Technical Recession

For more Pavlo Phitidis podcasts, visit https://smallbusinesshub.seifsa.co.za/press/

This week we highlight:

The Alarming Truth about the Number
of Small Businesses in South Africa
Entering, Surviving, and Thriving, In a
New Industry Created by New Technologies
BUSINESS-FUNDING-HOW-TO-SELF-FUND-YOUR-BUSINESS-THROUGH-ITS-LIFECYCLE-Click-Here
Business Funding: How to Self-Fund
Your Business through Its Lifecycle

SBH Newsletter June 2018

By | Newsletter | No Comments

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the second edition of the Small Business Hub newsletter. In this edition, we tell you about the exciting partnership between SEIFSA and Aurik Enterprise Development, concluded on 22 June 2018. We also welcome Pavlo Phitidis, who writes for us in the “Eliminating Barriers” section. Many know Pavlo from his 702 Radio show.

CONNECTING RESOURCES

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) has partnered with Aurik Enterprise Development (Aurik) to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the metals and engineering sector grow and thrive.

SEIFSA represents the interests of the metals and engineering industries, with its members ranging from giant steel-making corporations to micro-enterprises employing fewer than 50 people. Aurik, on the other hand, is headed by Pavlo Phitidis and specializes in developing and implementing supplier and enterprise development programmes.

Commenting on the partnership, SEIFSA CEO Kaizer Nyatsumba said: “We are very confident that our exciting partnership with Aurik will afford our SME members the opportunity to grow their businesses into profitable, systemized and sustainable corporations.”

He said small businesses have traditionally struggled to sustain their operations in a challenging economic environment, adding that bigger businesses needed to find the right partners to become part of their supply chain systems. He said the partnership with Aurik will enable SEIFSA to address these issues.

Aurik CEO Pavlo Phitidis said that in the last 14 years, Aurik has assessed over 18 000 entrepreneurs and assisted over 1500 SMEs across all economic sectors. He said that during 2015/16, when the South African GDP growth rate fell from 1.4% to 0.3%, the average annual turnover rate for the SMEs supported by Aurik grew by 59.8%.

Mr Phitidis said a growing, vibrant metals and engineering sector was crucial in stimulating and growing economic activities in other sectors of the economy. He said it was paramount that the metals and engineering sector attracts talent and encourages competition which generates innovation and attracts investment.

“Making this happen requires, amongst other things, close collaboration between big and small business. With this objective in mind, we are proud to have entered into a strategic partnership with SEIFSA,” Mr Phitidis said.

Mr Nyatsumba said SEIFSA was excited about the strategic partnership with Aurik, with its “extraordinary track record”, and is confident that the partnership would impact positively on the metals and engineering sector and the broader South African economy.

ELIMINATING BARRIERS

A word from Pavlo Phitidis

Collaboration is the key to unlock commercial success

A growing, vibrant steel and engineering sector grows our businesses and secures our future. This means our sector needs to attract talent and encourage competition which, in turn, generates innovation and attracts investment. To sustain such momentum, it is critical that all who both want to and can play a role be invited into the opportunity. To this end, effective transformation is key.

Making this happen requires, amongst other things, close collaboration between big and small business in our sector. With this objective in mind, and for the benefit of both large and small members, Aurik is proud to have entered into a strategic partnership with SEIFSA.

Aurik accelerates and supports high-potential SMEs to move to the next level. They work with the owners of these businesses to strengthen their underlying systems to grow and scale in a sustainable way. As a result, the ability of these SMEs to provide products and/or services into corporate supply chains is greatly enhanced – to the benefit of both parties.

The new B-BBEE Codes require an increased focus on local production, more support for small businesses and a more pro-active approach to Enterprise and Supplier Development. This pillar was made into a priority element and merged with Preferential Procurement in order to emphasize the link between the two. This has encouraged larger entities, which have to contribute 2% of their net profit after tax (NPAT) towards Supplier Development and 1% of their NPAT towards Enterprise Development, to find more meaningful and impactful ways of meeting these required targets.

Where many companies were treating their Enterprise Development spend as “just another CSI initiative”, it has now become apparent that this approach hardly supports the outcomes of the contributing entity. ESD means nothing if it doesn’t support the larger organisation’s Procurement Spend Targets with black-owned EME and QSE suppliers. In addition, the required ESD spend should ideally support strategic goals such as increased localization or increased demand in the measured entity’s products/services. This is why the trend is shifting away from a compliance-driven approach (one that secures points without measuring the impact on the beneficiary or the sponsor), to one that achieves specific objectives, as outlined in the overall strategy of the large entity.

So what defines a successful intervention, both from a corporate and from an SME point of view? For the sophisticated corporate strategist, indicators of success might include:

  • the amount of measurable procurement spend that can be shifted to the SME beneficiaries and, therefore, the number of additional procurement points gained;
  • the quality of service delivery from the SME to the corporate and its ability to meet service level agreement standards;
  • the actual cost per point once procurement points and bonus points are factored in;
  • the total increase in revenue for beneficiaries which have received assistance; and
  • the increase in contributions to the fiscus from the supported SMEs, just to mention a few.

Since the inception of the Codes, Aurik has assisted over 100 blue-chip companies with various elements of their ESD strategy to meet the above objectives.
From an SME point of view, the major benefits of participating in a well-designed programme may be measured in terms of increased profitability, more robust and more scalable business systems, greater customer diversification, better financial record keeping to facilitate access to funding, and increased operational efficiencies, just to name a few. In the last 14 years, Aurik has assessed over 18.000 entrepreneurs and assisted over 1500 SMEs across all economic sectors. During 2015/16, when the South African GDP growth rate fell from 1.4% to 0.3%, the average annual turnover growth rate of the SMEs supported by Aurik grew by 59.8%.

With this extraordinary track record, we at SEIFSA are excited about our strategic partnership with Aurik, a trusted advisor and reliable provider that can assist our larger members with meaningful SME strategies that will positively impact our sector and our economy, whilst meeting the BEE requirements for points. At the same time, we are confident that, by working with Aurik, we will also afford our SME members the opportunity to grow their businesses into an asset of value that is profitable, systemized and, therefore, sustainable and sellable. A stronger SME base will help stabilize the secto, and also contribute to job creation in South Africa.

Together, let us make a positive impact on our recovering economy!

REVEALING PROSPECTS

Every week, the Small Business Hub will feature “Pavlo Phitidis Presents”, which will highlight the burning questions every small business owner wants answered. The excerpts are taken from his 702 Radio show.

This week we highlight:

Big Questions from Business Owners Like You
Big questions from Business Owners like you
How To Protect Your Margins & Grow Your Business In A Cost Inflationary Environment
How to protect your margins and grow your business in a cost inflationary environment
Creating a-Succession Plan For Your Family Business
Creating a succession plan for your family business