Tag: covid-19

State of Disaster may end next week

By Ray White for EWN

Governance Minister Nkosazan Dlamini-Zuma on Tuesday said President Cyril Ramaphosa may announce the end of the state of disaster next week.

She has reaffirmed the latest regulations as announced by Ramaphosa earlier in March.

Outlining the remaining regulations, the minister said it would be up to the public to decide on the way forward.

“So, we will publish these regulations for comment for 48 hours and then we will analyse what they are saying and then the president will announce the end of the national state of disaster, which will be before 15 April, based on the comments [but] it might be around 5 April.”

But she emphasised that the R350 grant will remain despite the end of the national state of disaster.

“The payment of R350 will continue but will be removed from the national disaster after 30 days has lapsed and will continue through other means.”

The minister said the country’s ports of entry had been prioritised: “The 32 ports that are closed will remain closed because they were not necessarily economical but the 21 that are fully operational and when you enter, you must either show a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours or a vaccine certificate.”

It seems counterintuitive that a mass resignation trend would coincide with a global pandemic but the so-called “Great Resignation” is set to become one of the key economic features, or effects, of Covid-19. Referring to the phenomenon whereby people are voluntarily quitting their jobs en masse, the Great Resignation raises many pertinent questions about the value and nature of work, and deserves to be interrogated as both an economic and social occurrence.

The trend began in the United States in 2021 but quickly spread to many other parts of the world. In South Africa too, there have now been numerous reports of a similar trend emerging as employees re-evaluate their personal and professional priorities in the wake of the pandemic.

Important to note is that this trend appears to be limited to skilled employees – a contingent who typically have the skills, experience and resources that allow them more career options and flexibility around, for example, working hours. Equally significant to note is that more and more experts and commentators are calling it the “great reset” and suggesting the trend be viewed as an opportunity for workers to better align their skills and expertise with their personal goals and values, and for companies to take a more robust and streamlined approach to the skills they hire for.

A Harvard Business Review article on the topic recommends that companies “get on the same page with employees by reconceptualising what it means to be part of their organisation”. Experts from three industries share their views around an effective reset.

Reset with a hybrid workplace model

David Seinker, founder and CEO of serviced office space offering, The Business Exchange, has been championing hybrid work models since long before the pandemic accelerated the adoption of alternative work models. He believes the Great Resignation too is an opportunity for us to reevaluate the nature and nuances of skilled work and to make the necessary adjustments to benefit both employees and employers.

“For some two years now, employees have proven that work can happen independently of a specific location and set working hours, which means that the office is now viewed as a destination rather than the default. Companies can’t afford to mandate employees to simply go back to the office in the traditional 9 to 5 sense without considering how experiences of the physical working environment contribute to employees’ job satisfaction,” he shares.

Seinker explains that hybrid work models offer a best-of-both approach that the post-pandemic employee is likely to insist on and businesses concerned about retaining talent need to at the very least consider more flexible working arrangements.

Reset with a robust working environment, dynamic opportunities

“Talent retention, particularly in the creative industries, has been a challenge for a while now, which is why we’ve been committed to exploring ways to ensure we can offer the best people the best working environment, whether that be on a permanent or freelance basis, where the emphasis is on harnessing their unique skills and expertise in a way that satisfies their professional goals as much as it does our needs,” says Reagen Kok, CEO of Hoorah Digital.

Interestingly, research by the Boston Consulting Group Johannesburg has found that money alone isn’t the only thing that attracts tech and digital talent in Africa, but that the “right workplace culture and values, and the learning and skills training they offer” still plays an important role in employee retention.

Kok shares that, in his experience, highly skilled and talented people are seeking more dynamic opportunities that align with their personal values. “The pandemic forced many of us to deeply reevaluate how we spend our time and we’re taking the steps to ensure there is more alignment between what we want from life and what we’re doing at work. Our role as employers is to step up and meet employees somewhere along this journey, or risk losing them to the companies who are.”

Reset to become more people-focussed, lead with empathy

A reset necessitates the prioritisation of the human before the employee, acknowledging that workers are people before they are talent, skills or resources. And humans thrive in trusting, empathetic environments.

This is something that is high on the agenda for public relations and integrated marketing agency Irvine Partners, who remain committed to building trust and leading with empathy as some of the ways it seeks to mitigate the potential impact of the Great Resignation. Listening to employees’ expectations, whether through formal or informal channels, is key. “Employees want — and deserve — to feel heard, acknowledged and recognised. Operating from the point of view that your employees are your most valuable resource is imperative, and needs to underpin the company culture at large. As an example, this year we hired a senior team member who left a major agency because they refused to even consider remote working. He was spending hours a day in traffic and his employer didn’t see anything wrong with that. Even if they’d met him halfway with a hybrid, he would’ve stayed. They lost a talented and hard-working team member as a result. While all companies have different realities, there is always a middle ground,” says Hayley van der Woude, MD. She adds that it is the leaders in the organisation who need to drive an empathetic focus on people.

Writing in Business Day, Johann van Niekerk, MD of Outsized for Africa, says that those companies who see the great resignation as the great reset and adjust their strategies accordingly, “could increase the range of available skills and therefore the company’s competitiveness and output”.

By Zodidi Dano, Harvest Thwala for IOL

The Cabinet’s decision to allow for the full return of all learners at school on a daily attendance has been lauded by many, however, education activists are calling for the government to deal with the issue of overcrowded classrooms.

On Monday, it was announced that Cabinet has approved a number of adjustments with immediate effect to the country’s Alert Level 1 Covid-19 regulations based on the trajectory of the pandemic and the levels of vaccination.

Some of the amendments included Covid-19 isolation guidelines, as well as the removal of the 1-metre social distancing measure at schools. It also approved the full return of all learners at schools.

Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said she welcomed the news.

“I am extremely pleased with the announcement yesterday that the National Cabinet has decided that all schools should return full-time. We have been calling for this and welcome this development,” she said.

Schäfer added that following a meeting with Education Minister Angie Motshekga it was agreed that this would be put in effect on Monday, February 7.

The MEC said following numerous requests from parents, she also said that the issue of mask-wearing for children be reconsidered.

Thirona Moodley of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) KwaZulu-Natal region said the union welcomed the decision for the daily attendance of all learners.

“The world is in the third year of the Covid pandemic, it has not only impacted on lives and health but also on our economies and schooling. Schooling and education, in general, are dependent primarily on person-to-person contact, a complete reliance on online lessons cannot effectively replace the traditional way of teaching and learning,” said Moodley.

The union’s executive director Basil Manuel though, cautioned the Department of Basic Education about the relaxation of the social distance measurement.

“We, however, caution the Department of Basic Education (DBE) not to allow the social distancing relaxation to now rest on their laurels in urgently addressing the issue of overcrowding in schools. The Department has already missed an opportunity during the pandemic period to tackle this grave problem.

“If the Department was able, in a short space of time at the start of the pandemic, to provide water infrastructure (albeit water tanks in many instances) to school that did not have these facilities, they surely could have done something during the last 2 years to alleviate the overcrowding of schools,” Manuel said.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta also lauded the Cabinet’s decision, saying it was clear that learners had lost a lot in the curriculum and that there was a need for full-time attendance.

“The central question now is what is the government going to do about the issue of overcrowded classrooms, an issue that has been persisting over the year,” he said.

Makaneta said although the pandemic caught the country while it was unprepared, it assisted on the overcrowding classroom issue.

“We want the school infrastructure to be extended in schools in townships and rural communities so that the same small number of learners per classroom, as was during the pandemic, to be maintained,” he concluded.

Lead researcher on the Education Chapter of the ‘Covid-19 Country Report of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Vimolan Mudaly said that this decision was long overdue.

“The problems with rotational classes far outweighs the dangers that the retreating Covid-19 virus poses and I am convinced that this decision was long overdue. The gaps left by the omission of content due to curriculum trimming can be worked on, and we expect that within the next few weeks a sense of schooling normality will begin to prevail,” he said.

Mudaly also said that there are no absolute guarantees that learners will be safe from the pandemic, however, he believes that school personnel will monitor the situation.

“We have to measure the loss of time and curriculum content against the current state of the pandemic. There may still be remnants of the virus circulating in our community, but there seems to be a general immunity established. Despite these decisions, I will still imagine that school personnel will monitor the situation in their schools and react as quickly as possible if there are suspicions of an outbreak,” he said.

 

By Xolile Mtembu for IOL

Several South African companies have announced that they will implement a vaccine mandate. Under this policy, workers who do not want to vaccinate will not have access to their employer’s premises. While some of the companies said they might retrench employees who refuse the jab, others said they would not.

Discovery was one of the first companies to reveal its plans to introduce mandatory vaccinations. In September, chief executive Adrian Gore said their mandatory vaccination policy would include all the group’s properties across the country. “Based on the science and public health imperative, we see it as our responsibility to materially increase the country’s overall vaccination rate.

“We hold ourselves to the highest standard in this regard. This is crucial both ethically, given the scale of immune-compromised people in our country, and practically, given the degree of vaccine hesitancy currently being observed,” said Gore.

In the same month, Sanlam, Africa’s largest non-bank financial services group, announced that it would join Discovery in imposing mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all staff from 2022, although it said it won’t fire workers who refused to be inoculated.

Private education group Curro also said at the time that it would require all staff be vaccinated by year-end. Its chief executive, Andries Greyling, said mandatory vaccination was aimed at creating a safe teaching and learning space. The company may consider retrenching those who fail to oblige.

MTN Group announced that its vaccination policy will go into effect from January. Group president Ralph Mutipa cited science as the reason for the mobile telecommunications company’s decision to require its workers to get the jab.

“The science is clear. Vaccination against Covid-19 reduces rates of serious infection, hospitalisations and death. As an employer, we have a responsibility to ensure that our workplaces are guided by the highest standards of health and safety, and that has informed our decision to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for our staff,” said Mutipa.

Old Mutual’s vaccination mandate starts from January 2022. The company will require all their workers to provide proof of vaccination. The insurance company’s chief executive, Iain Williamson, said: “Across the world, vaccinations are proving to be the key to unlocking economic activity, returning life to a more normal rhythm, preventing severe illness and death, decreasing transmission rates as well as reducing the emergence of new variants of the disease.”

Standard Bank said its vaccine mandate would begin on April 4, 2022. Every employee of the bank would be expected to be inoculated but those who had a reason for not being vaccinated could lodge an objection on constitutional or medical grounds.

Retailer Game also backs the government’s call to get more South Africans vaccinated through its Vaccination Appreciation Wednesday venture. The company offers a 10% discount to customers who produce proof of vaccination or a valid ID. This discount is available to those who purchase goods up to R10 000.

Big Concerts International announced that South Africans wanting to attend its events in future will be required to show proof of vaccination against Covid- 19. This follows the news that Canadian superstar Justin Bieber will perform in the country in September and October next year, as part of plans to restart arena events in the country soon.

Big Concerts says all music fans eligible to be vaccinated should have received the jab as a prerequisite to enter its concert venues. It says the only ones exempted from this are those whose age group had not yet been called upon to get vaccinated by the time of the event.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) yesterday recommended to government that vaccine mandates should be implemented at workplaces and that some venues be only accessible to vaccinated persons.

By Siphelele Dludla for IOL

The South African economy shrunk by 1.5 percent in the three months to September following four quarters of consecutive growth, eroding some economic gains made since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

This was the first quarter of contraction since the second quarter of 2020.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) today said this was due to the pressures of tighter Covid-19 lockdown restrictions during the third wave and a spate of civil unrest in July.

The country was on Alert Level 4 lockdown from 28 June to 25 July, impacting growth in the tourist accommodation sector, as well as constricting restaurant and catering trade.

This latest gross domestic product (GDP) reading means that the economy in the third quarter of 2021 was on par with the first quarter of 2016.

“The economy is 3.1 percent smaller than it was before the Covid-19 pandemic,” StatsSA said.

StatsSA said 6 of the 10 industries recorded a decline in production in the third quarter, with agriculture, trade and manufacturing the hardest hit.

The agriculture industry recorded its biggest drop in production since 2016, contracting by 13.6 percent.

Together with a decline in the production of animal products, the industry in KwaZulu-Natal was dealt a major blow by the civil disorder in July.

Maize, citrus and sugarcane farms recorded losses from fires set during the upheaval.

The trade industry shrank by 5.5 percent, with all trade sectors reporting losses.

Wholesale, retail and motor trade were negatively affected by the widespread looting and destruction that gripped KwaZulu-Natal as well as Gauteng.

StatsSA said a cyberattack that disrupted operations at South African ports also dealt a further blow to motor trade.

The manufacturing industry declined by 4.2 percent, dragged lower in the main by the civil disorder and global shortages of raw materials.

However, four industries managed to keep their heads above water, with the finance industry increasing economic activity by 1.2 percent.

Personal services saw an uptick in economic activity on the back of increased spending on private healthcare and the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for those aged between 18 and 35 years. General government expanded by 0,4%, attributed to a rise in employment in local government and extra-budgetary accounts and funds.

By Given Majola for IOL

Research released by Visa this week shows that consumers were optimistic about economic recovery, increasingly comfortable spending on non-essentials, luxury items, dining and travel.

The study that tracks the impact of the pandemic on consumer attitudes and spending across Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) revealed that in South Africa, 42% of consumers said they now shopped for groceries online.

Overall, Visa’s survey found that the Covid-19 pandemic had created significant opportunities for the e-commerce channel, especially those retailers entering the digital economy for the first time, and those consumers who made their very first online purchases.

Visa South Africa Country Manager Aldo Laubscher said their research showed how the Covid-19 pandemic had transformed the way the region’s consumers spend their money, with many of these significant behavioural changes likely to continue after the pandemic.

“As online shopping and contact less payments become the ‘new normal’, it is more important than ever that businesses adapt to the changing consumer demand for a digital experience, which is increasingly seen as a safer and more seamless alternative to cash,” Laubscher said.

Vaccine passport to launch this week

By Xolile Bhengu for IOL

The Department of Health hopes to have the first phase of the digital vaccine passport system implemented by the end of the week.

The passport soft-launched on Tuesday morning for testing.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla made the announcement during the launch of the mobile Covid-19 vaccine site at uMlazi township’s Umlazi Plaza as part of the Vooma Vaccination Weekend.

Phaahla said the pandemic had accelerated plans by the department, as it headed towards a universal healthcare system, to have a more digitised patient system.

“We will keep improving the system to verify that it captures the correct details for every person that has visited a vaccination site.”

The passport could be used to verify being vaccinated and allow access to sport facilities and music events, he said.

He said it was crucial for the department that KZN – which is a tourism-focused province – avoids a possible fourth wave.

He said the government was opting to engage the public about the Covid-19 vaccine instead of enforcing law enforcement for spreading false information about the vaccine.

The Health Department said the 18-34 year age group had not brought in the numbers they had initially hoped for in the vaccine roll-out programme, and the over 60 age group had challenges such as lack of transportation to reach vaccine sites.

It said KZN had only reached 11.1% of the required 70% for herd immunity.

Phaahla said only 13 million people had been fully vaccinated and the country needed more.

The government wants to have 70% of the adult population vaccinated by the end of the year.

He said while the initial uptake of Covid-19 vaccines had been good, a lot of misinformation had led people to become scared.

“Covid-19 forced us to revisit and improve our digital health platforms. The pandemic enabled us to have one health registration system through EVDS to merge both the public and private health system. We still have to discuss how post the pandemic the system could be utilised. It could be converted to an e-health file system, to have a proper medical history verification process through just scanning an ID number,” said Phaahla.

KZN MEC for Health Nomagugu Simelane said uMlazi as the second largest township in the country had been identified as one of the areas where the department needed to focus to ensure that people get vaccinated.

“Initially we were everywhere to drive the vaccine roll-out. But (Phaahla) has asked us to focus our efforts where we can see we have the lowest numbers.

“The private sector has come out to support us. For instance Toyota helped us to set up a vaccine site for its 8 000 employees, with the additional agreement that the site would be made available to the local community as well.

“Other companies that have come to the party are Spar and Hulett. We cannot do this alone and we need partnerships and we are asking even taxi owners to join us,” said Simelane.

 

Lockdown now due to be ‘reviewed’ by 3 October

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa was moving down a lockdown level, from Level 3 to Level 2, in a mid-September address to the nation, he offered hope that even less strict rules could be just around the corner.

“These measures will be reviewed in two weeks time depending on the state of the pandemic,” he said, after detailing the new curfew, limits on gatherings, and rules for alcohol sales.

That promise was made formal in regulations published on the same night, on 12 September with just a little more detail: the regulations would be “reviewed and amended where necessary”, and that would be done within two weeks of their publication, so the count would start on that day, said co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

That deadline fell on Sunday, 26 September.

But instead of a review of lockdown, the government simply pushed out the deadline.

In a notice signed by Dlamini Zuma on the same long-weekend Sunday, she rubbed out that 12 September sub-section and replaced it with a one-week countdown starting immediately.

That sets the new review date for Adjusted Alert Level 2 – with the expectation that it would be reduced to Level 1 – on Sunday, 3 October.

However, there appears to be no reason the deadline can not again be extended, by the same simple method of decree, either before that date or at the last second again.

After rapid evolution over the last 15 months, Alert Level 1 is now expected to maintain the requirement to wear a mask while in public, and to demand Covid-19 tests from everyone entering South Africa, but to have little further impact on daily life.

 

Financially strained South Africans cut spending

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

South Africans under financial pressure due to the Covid–19 pandemic are cutting spending on non-essentials such as restaurants and take-aways, and TV subscriptions.

These were the findings of Santam’s Insurance Barometer report for 2020/21.

Its findings were in line with the Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor (OMSIM) released in August which also found that women were cutting down on shopping at premium grocery stores like Woolworths.

The Santam Insurance Barometer showed that the challenging economy, political unrest, the pandemic impact on businesses, cybercrime and climate change are among the top risks highlighted by consumers, intermediaries and corporates polled.

Santam said that some of the most notable trends among South African consumers over the past 18 months were that 50% of consumers reduced the number of kilometres driven each week by an average of 44%, from 162km to 90km per week.

This was likely brought on by the increasing work-from-home trend brought on by the Covid–19 lockdown in South Africa.

On the technology front, 16% of consumers upgraded their computers and connectivity to enable them to work from home. Three in four people reported an increase in their use of technology.

In addition to measuring the concerns of individuals and organisations related to short-term insurance, the survey also asked respondents regarding their spending habits.

Consumer respondents said they targeted the following areas when looking to reduce expenditure, in the following proportions:

  • 59% — restaurant outings, food take-aways when looking to reduce expenditure
  • 45% — travel and petrol, clothing, footwear, and accessories
  • 33% — hobbies, sports and gym expenditure
  • 28% — groceries
  • 23% — TV subscriptions
  • 19% — domestic travel
  • 15% — cellphone contract
  • 10% — repayment of debt
  • 10% — school fees

BusinessTech noted that Santam’s findings were in line with those from the Old Mutual Savings & Investment Monitor (OMSIM) published in August.

In addition to showing that consumers cut back on spending, the OMSIM also showed that South Africans adapted their lifestyles.

The top ways households reduced expenditure was by switching to cheaper supermarket brands, and downgrading DStv and streaming services.

While OMSIM specifically mentions Woolworths in relation to people switching to cheaper supermarket brands, it is interesting to note that Woolworths reported an increase in sales at its grocery stores in its latest financial results.

Source: MyBroadband

Here are 10 steps before considering dismissing an employee for refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine:

1. Perform a Covid-19 risk assessment

This will determine whether a mandatory vaccination policy is necessary and to identify employees who work in situations where:

  • The risk of transmission is high due to the nature of their work.
  • The risk for severe Covid-19 or death is high due to an employee’s age or comorbidities.

2. Develop a vaccination plan or adjust your existing Covid-19 plan

3. Educate employees about vaccines and provide them with more information

Relevant information can be found in the vaccine FAQ section of the NICD’s website .

4. Assist employees with registering for vaccination on the EVDS portal

Registering on the health department’s Electronic Vaccination Database System (EVDS) allow South Africans to book a time and select the vaccination site where they would like to receive their vaccine.

5. Give employees paid time off to be vaccinated

If you implement a mandatory vaccination policy, you may not withhold pay or force employees to take leave without pay.

6. Place employees who suffer from vaccine side effects on paid leave

Employees who suffer from side effects after taking the vaccine should be given sick leave. If their sick leave is exhausted, they may qualify for further paid time off.

7. Keep employees informed on vaccination issues

This includes notifying them about:

  • The obligation to be vaccinated and by what date.
  • The right to refuse to be vaccinated on constitutional or medical grounds.
  • The opportunity to consult with a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official.

8. Counsel employees who refuse to be vaccinated on any constitutional grounds

Talk to employees and allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative if requested. Refer the employee for further medical evaluation if they refuse to be vaccinated based on a medical condition.

9. Explore alternative arrangements

Dismissal should only be a last resort. The employer should attempt to accommodate the employee in a position where they do not require the vaccine.

Possible options to consider include letting the employee:

  • Work off-site
  • Work from home
  • Work in isolation (at the workplace)
  • Work outside normal working hours
  • Work while wearing an N95 mask

10. Follow the correct procedure for dismissals

If all other options have been exhausted, Truter advised against disciplinary action. Instead, he said to deal with the dismissal as one of “operational requirements” or “incapacity”.

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