Johannesburg – As the country battles a third wave of COVID-19 infections, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi says his department’s priority is to ensure that workers are safe and that workplaces do not become super spreaders.
Speaking during a briefing by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) earlier Tuesday, Nxesi said this will be achieved by tightening and enforcing health and safety measures in the workplace.
“Our primary foundation is the Occupational Health and Safety Act, complemented by the Hazardous Biological Agents regulations. Throughout the pandemic, we have issued out Directions that were regularly updated whenever it was necessary to do so.
“We do not believe that there is a need to update these as they are based on the hierarchy of Occupational Health and safety controls that are imbedded in the primary Act,” Nxesi said.
This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced the move to Adjusted Alert Level 4 from Monday for a period of 14 days. The various Directions were published in the Government Gazette published on Monday.
Nxesi said his department will this week finalise a rapid response plan to inspect workplaces across all provinces for compliance with health and safety regulations.
With regard to COVID-19 TERS, Nxesi said during the pandemic, the UIF had distributed R60 billion to over 500 million laid-off workers supporting them, their families and businesses and communities across the country.
“Already, there have been calls for the Department, through the Unemployment Insurance Fund to consider re-opening the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme for the industries worst affected by the lockdown.
“As we have always indicated, UIF has been there when the country needed it the most. All of this was done to support the country and ensure that the lockdown does not lead to mass hunger as workers were denied the chance of making a living.
“Equally, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the financial viability of the UIF in order to meet payment obligations,” the minister said.
Nxesi said in response to the move to Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown, the UIF management has been locked in discussions with their actuaries to find surplus monies to address the new conditions.
“From the side of the UIF, we believe we will be able to afford to support laid-off workers in sectors which have been closed by government, in particular the alcohol industry over the 14-day lockdown,” Nxesi said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, over 30 000 workplaces have been inspected. The department has also during the 2020/21 financial year employed and trained 500 additional new Health and Safety inspectors.
“This will allow us to quadruple the number of workplace inspections during the coming year with a target of nearly 100 000 inspections,” said the Minister.
He added that by “making workplaces safer, we not only protect lives, we also protect livelihoods and economic activity which allows us to continue to function as a society”.
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