Profit or workers lives? Unpacking employer responses to Covid-19 and the impact on workers

​The University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Centre for Social Change and the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) have co-produced a rapid response research report on how employers are responding to the current conditions of the lockdown.

The report is based on analysis of 75 companies ranging from large to small-to-medium enterprises. 35 of the companies analysed remain operational while 40 have ceased operating under the lockdown.

Read the full report

The report highlights significant and concerning gaps in the occupational health and safety measures at companies that are continuing to operate. Further, it demonstrates that employers that have shut down during the lockdown have largely not sought to alleviate the burden on workers through applying for the Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (C19 TERS) and instead are mostly forcing workers to take paid and unpaid leave. This is despite the fact the Minister of Employment and Labour has implored employers not to do this.

The key findings show:

  • Companies that are still operating are largely failing to provide basic or adequate health and safety provisions. Out of 35 companies that are still operating, 30 had not provided personal protective equipment (PPE), 29 had not undertaken measures to ensure social distancing in the workplace, 28 had not provided transport to workers and 22 had not provided hand sanitizer.
  • For companies that have ceased operations, only 9 out of 40 companies have applied to the C19 TERS fund. Most employers are shifting the economic burden of the crisis onto their workers through forcing them to take paid and unpaid leave.
  • Some companies that may be categorized as essential services, particularly in the food and beverage and chemical sectors, produce non-essential and luxury goods that are not required in the fight against the virus. At these companies, continued production risks the lives of workers unnecessarily.
  • High levels of employer non-compliance in registering their workers for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will severely limit the relief that workers may be able to seek through no fault of their own.

The Covid-19 pandemic poses unique and complex socio-economic challenges for South Africa. To address the urgent needs of workers, their families and communities the report makes the following recommendations.

  • The Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) should intensify inspections and halt operations at all companies that fail to comply with Occupational Health and Safety Act and the specific guidelines that have been issued in response to the risks posed by Covid-19.
  • The DEL should prioritise inspections at large workplaces where workers are most at risk.
  • That the classification of essential goods and services be reviewed so that workers lives are not jeopardized for the production of luxury goods.
  • That employers be compelled to apply for the C19 TERS if they are unable to pay salaries to workers during the lockdown period.
  • That the C19 TERS fund be extended to all workers, regardless of whether their employer has made contributions to the fund or not.


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