Carol Paton Editor at Large
Busa vice-president Martin Kingston. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Busa vice-president Martin Kingston. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Business organisations have mobilised an enormous amount of human resources into full-time pro-bono work to limit the economic, social and health effects of Covid-19, and to support public sector initiatives.

Countries around the world are projecting huge contractions of GDP, especially in the second quarter of 2020, despite the injection of huge resources by governments into wealthy economies. In SA, which does not have the significant fiscal stimulus resources, a full-year recession is expected and the risk of the permanent failure of businesses is extremely high.

The business response includes both Business Unity SA (Busa) and the Black Business Council, and dwarfs all previous business initiatives in its scale and impact. Representatives met President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday to discuss strategy and plans over the next few weeks.

“Desperate times demand desperate measures. We have embarked on this major collaboration — among SA businesses and with the government — to share best practice, reduce risk wherever possible, and implement practical measures to ease the hardships caused by this global catastrophe. We will see through this pandemic by preparing effectively, adapting where necessary and acting decisively,” Busa vice-president Martin Kingston said in a statement on Sunday.

A project management office, run by the big auditing firms, was established last week with three work streams dealing with the following: health, headed by Aspen’s Stavros Nicolaou; the labour market, headed by Bowman’s chair Rob Legh; and the economy, led by Rothschild chair Martin Kingston. Busi Mavuso, Business Leadership CEO will head up a communications task team.

In the first phase, the focus of the health workstream will be to mobilise resources to contribute to Covid-19 tracing, tracking, testing, monitoring and pathology labs. It will also secure personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines and medical devices for the health sector and support the department of health with the deployment of resources.

The economic workstream will identify critical sectors and help develop policy and industry specific interventions. These could include proposals about tax and loan relief, ensuring the security of critical supplies and energy, and putting in place tracking systems that will enable the government to combat predatory pricing, rent seeking and panic buying.

The team will also look at whether and how local manufacturing can be optimised to manufacture essential goods that are typically imported but will not be available due to the breakdown in global supply chains.

The work stream will also look at how quarantining, lockdowns and the shift to working from home will give rise to new demands on telecommunications networks, electricity supply and other infrastructural constraints.

Mitigating the risks from the public transport system and identifying alternative mass commuter services will also form part of this team’s brief. In the meeting with Ramaphosa on Sunday, business stressed the importance of an immediate stop to domestic travel, especially in and out of Gauteng, the epicentre of the pandemic in SA. It is important, business argued, that this happen well ahead of Easter to slow down the spread of the virus.

The labour workstream will look at the effects of Covid-19 on employers and employees and developing advice on issues such as short working hours, Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims and special leave.

It will identify and address blockages such as seeking adjustments to the disaster management regulations and other aspects of the regulatory framework, which may inhibit steps that are necessary to combat the spread.

It will also be encouraging good practice to support employee, environmental and workplace hygiene, and collaboration with regulators especially in high-risk sectors.

patonc@businesslive.co.za