Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Labour department inspectors have uncovered a high level of non-compliance by employers, with most failing to provide protective equipment and not maintaining the safe social distances as required in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

MPs said on Wednesday there is a danger of the situation worsening once the lockdown is eased and workers return to work.

The labour department’s 170 health and safety inspectors have conducted inspections of private and public companies, most of them retail stores. In the 11 days to April 15, 45% of the 1,135 companies inspected were found to be noncompliant.

In some instances stores have been closed down because of non-compliance and 617 contravention, improvement or prohibition notices have been issued.

The CEO of Implats Rustenburg mines division, Mark Munroe, was charged earlier in April with violating the Disaster Management Act for recalling 6,000 workers to work. He has denied the allegation.

Labour department director-general Thobile Lamati said in a presentation to a joint meeting of the portfolio committee on labour and the select committee on trade and industry, small business development, tourism and labour that the department has received numerous complaints from workers who say that their employers were not taking the Covid-19 issue seriously.

In some cases employers were found to be in possession of false certificates to operate as essential services. Several workplaces had not undertaken the necessary risk assessments and some companies had failed to implement some best practice to prevent the virus spreading.

“As we continue to do inspections it has become clear to us that there are employers who have no regard for the health and safety of workers,” Lamati said.

Labour minister Thulas Nxesi raised the problem of employers not applying to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for benefits under the temporary employees relief scheme (Ters) on behalf of workers who had lost their income.

There were also cases of employers making claims on behalf of workers despite not having paid their UIF contributions on behalf of workers or making claims for more workers than for whom UIF contributions had been paid.

He gave the assurance that workers would not suffer due to this failure saying “the sins of the employers will not be visited on the employees”.

The department defended the performance of the UIF in the payment of the Ters benefit. Lamati said that up until Tuesday, the UIF had received 55,268 claims. Of those, 37,772 applications representing more than 790,150 employees had been successful with R1.69bn having been paid out. A further 21,000 applications received on Tuesday are being processed.

Lamati gave the assurance that there was a turnaround time of 24 hours or at worst 48 hours for the processing and payment of Ters claims.

This contrasts with complaints by many employers that their outstanding claims have not been paid and that they have not received accounts of payments made. Lamati said that only valid applications that meet all the requirements could be processed. If not, they are returned to employers.

The UIF is collaborating with the SA Revenue Service (Sars) so that it can assist in the processing of claims in the event that the UIF system collapses under the deluge of applications. Applications will still, however, be submitted to the UIF.

UIF commissioner Vuyo Mafata told MPs that the UIF’s reserves had declined from about R172bn at end-March to R145bn due to the Moody’s sovereign downgrade of SA to junk status and the Covid-19 pandemic. Of this, R33bn is invested in socially responsible investments.

A sum of R40bn has been earmarked for Covid-19-related interventions while the UIF has set aside just more than R60bn to cover the liability expected to arise from job losses and retrenchments after the lockdown is lifted.

Nxesi warned that there will be a huge number of retrenchments due to Covid-19, which could add 1-million to 2-million to the number of unemployed people. This will lead to many companies applying for the Ters benefit, placing the system under tremendous strain.

Regarding the Compensation Fund, MPs heard that all functions of the fund are operational at 50% of capacity to achieve social distancing and mitigate the risks of exposure to Covid-19.

Despite large numbers of confirmed cases of Covid-19 being contracted at work few claims have been registered by employers, Lamati said.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za