Carol Paton Editor at Large
A nurse performs a swab test for Covid-19 in Lenasia, Johannesburg, on May 13 2020. Picture: AFP/MICHELE SPATARI
A nurse performs a swab test for Covid-19 in Lenasia, Johannesburg, on May 13 2020. Picture: AFP/MICHELE SPATARI

Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi said on Friday that he will amend workplace regulations to compel employers to test employees and place them in quarantine for 14 days if close colleagues are infected by Covid-19.

This will also apply to healthworkers and health facilities, which can be closed  for non-compliance with health and safety regulations. Employees are entitled to 14 days of sick leave while in quarantine and employers “may not deduct the cost of Covid-19 precautions from wages or require [employees] to pay for these”.

Employees will also have a right to refuse to work if they have “a reasonable belief” that the necessary precautions have not been taken.

Health facilities at which Covid-19 infections occur among employees are not exempt from these requirements. They are also not exempt from being closed if they do not comply with regulations. However, in the case of public hospitals, closure and evacuation of patients might not be in the public interest and so must be dealt with quickly and carefully.

“There is a big debate about public hospitals. If regulations are not followed are you able to close the hospital? Clearly the weight of public interest is heavier, hence we have to try and deal with that overnight, so we don’t have to evacuate the hospital,” said Nxesi.

Several public clinics and hospitals have been forced to close due to the infection of healthworkers by Covid-19.

As an additional 8-million workers prepare to return to work from June 1, the government has put in place workplace compliance measures to mitigate the possibilities of infection. All workplaces must appoint a Covid-19 compliance officer, conduct a risk assessment and formulate a plan to return to work.

All employees, including domestic workers and gardeners, must be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), including sanitising facilities and two cloth masks to be kept for their use.

Workplaces need to ensure that the proper amount of people return to work, that offices and factory floors have been deep cleaned and vehicles disinfected.

Inspections conducted at workplaces operating under level 4 restrictions found a large degree of non-compliance, said Nxesi.

From March 30 to May 30, 332 prohibition notices were served, an average of about nine a day. Out of 3,844 inspections, 2,116 were found to have complied while 1,724 failed to comply with the regulations.

“We need to change behaviour in response to the dangers posed by Covid-19,” said Nxesi. “This message has not embedded itself in the consciousness of many employers, according to what we see in our statistics.”