It’s hard to find the words to adequately describe the impact that Covid-19 has had on our lives, as well as its likely impact for the foreseeable future. Workplaces are undergoing their own revolution, as new, novel and unprecedented challenges build.
The well-intended UIF TERS benefits have, by and large, been successful, notwithstanding a glut of administrative glitches flowing from an overburdened Department of Employment and Labour. Workplace health and safety has been catapulted, front and centre, into the headlights of employers, who face a myriad of new challenges. Workplace modelling is also now centre stage. Social distancing works in some workplaces, but less so in others.
Our national client base is diverse, and we have observed how Covid-19 has impacted all sectors, with some experiencing brutal consequences.
Our hospitality industry clients have, perhaps, been hardest hit. Hospitality was the first sector to be badly affected, and will be the last and slowest to recover, especially that segment of the sector with large foreign, international guest exposure. As things stands, many hotels have been closed for almost two months, and may not reopen-open until October 2020. Some European based airlines only expect to reach 80% of pre-Covid capacity by 2023.
Most readers will have had first-hand experience of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on jobs. We have two specific observations on this. Firstly, many of our clients are retrenching due to the severe economic impact Covid-19 is having on the viability of their businesses. A second observation, which few anticipated, is that some employers less prejudiced by Covid-19, are none the less retrenching, as they have come to realise that, as staff are gradually returning to work, they are in fact overstaffed, and can get by without all employees returning.
Most employers elect to offer staff voluntary retrenchment packages, before implementing section 189, or 189A, of the Labour Relations Act. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, our clients who have done so have had a higher number of voluntary retrenchment applications, than would otherwise have been expected. This can largely be attributed to two things. Firstly, as time goes by, households are finding it increasingly difficult to manage their cash-flow, as many are on reduced income. For this reason, they are choosing to ‘cash-in’ on the enhanced severance payments associated with voluntary retrenchments, to stabilise their household cash-flow. Secondly, retrenchment volunteers often apply as they fear subsequent unilateral retrenchment process, with a less attractive severance pay formula.
Retrenchments processes can be initiated, as long as there are adequate measures taken to ensure that the required consultation process can take place.
The CCMA opened its offices yesterday, since closing in late March 2020. Time will tell how they adapt. In fairness, the CCMA has an unenviable task. The significant case backlog, occasioned by the national shutdown, will not be erased quickly.
We represent clients at the CCMA throughout the country. The smaller CCMA offices such as Sabi (Mpumalanga) can probably adapt more quickly than the ever-busy Johannesburg office.
With the move to lockdown level 3 on 1 June 2020, most sectors will reopen. We anticipate numerous challenges. Employers are advised, in addition to ensuring compliance with sanitisation and social distancing measures, to have each returning employee complete, and sign, a return to work Covid-19 preparedeness induction documentation, to confirm that the induction has been completed, and that the employee fully understands their responsibilities in the newly configured workplace.