Tag: workers

By Sentleeng Lehihi for SABC News

The North West Labour Department says the recently Amended Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces cannot be used to force workers to vaccinate.

The department insists that workers who are unfairly dismissed for refusing to vaccinate must report the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) if no internal process is available.

This follows a SABC News report where Tyeks Security Services employees alleged that their employer had informed them that it is mandatory for all workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Last week, a SABC News item highlighted the plight of Tyeks Security Service employees, who raised concern about being forced to vaccinate.

“We received a letter forcing us to get vaccinated whether we like it or not, failing which, you lose your job and the way the president spoke he was clear that the vaccination is voluntary. Vaccination should not be mandatory,” said one of the workers.

“My one question is what will happen to my health when I get vaccinated unwillingly because I always have complications because of my chronic condition,” said another worker.

Labour legislation

While vaccinations remain voluntary, the Labour Department recently released an Amended Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces, to provide guidelines for employers to make vaccinations mandatory.

According to the new directions, while not every employee poses a risk of transmission of severe disease, the employer can determine whether an employee is required to be vaccinated by identifying those employees who pose a risk of transmission or risk of severe COVID-19 disease or death due to their age or co-morbidities.

Vaccination is not mandatory

Provincial Chief Inspector for the Labour Department, Boikie Mampuru says employees have the right to refuse to be vaccinated.

“Any employer obviously wants to make the operation to be efficient. In that sense, he must then develop a risk assessment that will mitigate against COVID-19. What we are saying is that if there is an employer who wants to force people to be vaccinated, the dispute can be handled internally. If there are no dispute mechanisms, the employee has a right to lodge for an unfair dismissal, which normally is handled by one of the entities of the Department of Labour which is CCMA.”

North West Health Department Spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgethoane, echoes the same sentiments.

“To date vaccination is not mandatory in South Africa. However, the department encourages vaccination in order to attain population immunity. People who are vaccinated stand a better chance of resisting the severity of the illness if they do contract the virus. The understanding is that even the new occupational health and safety measures do not make vaccines mandatory.”

The confusion created by amended legislation

Labour Analyst, Mamokgethi Molopyane says the ambiguities in the new directions have created more confusion than solutions.

“When there is no clarity and instead of clarity there is ambiguity. Where it is open for interpretation, often what happens is that the employer will simply say that, ‘Well, I am enforcing it as I see fit per my company or my workplace but also in the industry that I work in’. And so that leaves many workers vulnerable to being compelled or forced by the employer to be vaccinated, to show the proof of vaccination.”

Tyeks Security Services’ response to allegations

In a written response, the legal services manager of Tyeks Security Services Jethro Makaye has refuted claims by employees that the directive to vaccinate is a ploy not to renew their contracts. Makaye says their employees are deployed in high-risk environments where they are in daily contact with high volumes of patients visiting facilities for medical attention.

He adds that the company is obliged to provide a safe working environment to employees.

Plans to extend Home Affairs working hours

Source: eNCA

Home Affairs is hoping to extend its working hours into the weekend in order to deal with backlogs.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says negotiations are continuing with worker unions to create weekend shifts.

Strides have been made, but the department is still plagued by snaking queues, frequent server problems, disinterested staff and corruption.

Currently, Home Affairs offices close at 3.30pm and are not open on weekends.

The minister wants to change that.

“That’s what we want to do, a shift system that the people who come to work on the weekends must not work during the week, for instance,” Motsoaledi said.

“We’re still negotiating with the unions.”

Source: Forbes Communications Council

One of my favourite TikTok trends in recent weeks has been a series of posts where content creators list their “guidelines for return to the workplace” for employers. The tongue-in-cheek clips list some of the creature comforts that employees may or may not have become used to while working remotely over the last year, such as “business casual attire will now include sweatpants” or “it will now be acceptable to have a glass of wine by my computer throughout the day.”

I don’t anticipate that many organisations will give the okay for employees to swap coffee pots for carafes of merlot or sport joggers instead of slacks as offices reopen, but the humorous series of clips does raise a very real challenge. While the product and outcomes may be the same, the experience of working at home is very different from working in an office. It’s not just about having a different monitor or a different chair. The physical energy involved and the mental approach to work is different. In some ways, it’s much easier; in some ways, it’s more difficult.

While there are many employers that have declared their intentions for ongoing remote work scenarios, many other organisations are planning to bring employees back into a shared, physical office space sometime in the coming months as the Covid-19 vaccine gains adoption and we approach herd immunity. (It is worth noting that I believe this decision should be 100% up to each organisation based on their own unique needs and working arrangements. This article is not meant to advocate for or against in-person or remote work.)

This transition is one I experienced firsthand earlier in my career on two occasions. While I was working for two different PR agencies, my employers opted to close our existing offices for several months while staff worked in a completely remote environment. (In one case, this was due to a move, and in the other, it was for a building renovation.) Transitioning back to an in-office environment was not easy, but we followed a few key strategies that helped ease the shift. I believe these tactics can also help employees and leadership weather the coming transition as we return to the office.

Talk about your re-entry plan
Organisations should conduct thoughtful outreach to employees to lay out specific expectations for how and when employees will return to the office. In addition, it will make sense to use a phased approach in many cases where some employees rejoin the physical office immediately while others — perhaps those with small children who are still unable to return to school or those who are still at risk due to the virus — wait a bit longer. In this scenario, individual employees should connect with their managers to discuss their own personal re-entry plan.

Try to ramp up rather than dive in
We’ve all experienced the different types of energy we need when we’re working in our office as opposed to working from home. The reasons for this range from the added commute time to the energy required to engage in-person and the lack of creature comforts of home. (Even if the food is the same, eating lunch on my couch is more relaxing than eating at my desk or in the staff lounge.) Just like you would with any other physical demand on your body, be prepared for a few days of adjustment. Talk with your supervisor about ramping up. Maybe you could work in-office one day per week for a couple of weeks, then two or three, and then a full week.

Start adjusting your routine even while you are at home
When kids go back to school after summer vacation, many parents start incorporating elements of the new school routine during the final weeks of the break. Wake up when classes start. Practice eating breakfast by a certain time. Ween off of extra screen time. The same applies to reentering the office. When your employer starts discussing reentry, try to consider how you will need to adjust your schedule and start incorporating those elements into your routine now. Set your alarm earlier to account for your commute. Practice meal prepping and packing a lunch instead of just hitting the fridge. If you have been enjoying a lunchtime workout, consider where your workout will fit into your day once you go back to the office. Think through the little changes that may disrupt your flow and how you can adapt to them now.

Returning to the workplace, and all of the activities that we have missed out on over the last year due to the virus, could be a fun and exciting experience. By taking a thoughtful approach, we can help reduce our own anxiety, as well as the anxiety of our team, and create a smooth re-entry.

Office property market still under pressure

By Edward West for IOL

FNB’s fourth quarter commercial property survey continues to point to a strong broker perception that companies are revising their office needs.

The brokers perceive activity in the market to be the weakest when compared with the retail and industrial market sectors.

Globally there has been ongoing debate around the “work-from-home” trend and whether it will or won’t impact heavily on office space demand.

Some see imminent downscaling of office space requirements by many companies, and a major glut of office space. Recently, however, some have cited the need for office space to enhance human collaborations, the argument being that working online full time has limitations in terms of human relationships.

“While office space has its place for physical meetings and interaction, our belief is that less of it is needed for such purposes, with staff able to spend a significant part of their time at home. Also, financial realities for pressured companies may play a key role in decision-making, and office space is costly,” FNB Commercial Property Finance Property Sector strategist John Loos said yesterday.

“Whether financial pressure-related downscaling or work-from-home-specific thinking, the end result looks the same, very weak demand for office space, and increased over-supply,” he said.

In the survey, brokers perceived market activity to have picked up in all three major commercial property sectors in the fourth quarter, with industrial property remaining the strongest.

The percentage of respondents perceiving business conditions to be satisfactory fell to only 21 percent however, down from 31 percent the previous quarter, following a mild third quarter increase as South Africa emerged from the second quarter hard lockdown.

The FNB Commercial Property Broker Survey surveys a sample of commercial property brokers in the six metros. The survey was done in November 2020, before the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

In all three major property markets, brokers saw the negative economic impact from Covid-19 lockdowns as still being a major influence on their near-term market activity expectations.

In the office sector, the “Zoom Boom” and its “work from home” implications continued to overshadow even the recession impact. The impact of online retail in the retail property sector was viewed as much less significant than the “work from home” impact on the office market.

The respondents were most upbeat about the industrial and warehouse property market, with the market’s fourth quarter activity rating up slightly to 4.68 points out of 10 points, from 4.64 points in the previous quarter. The retail property activity rating was lower at 3.59 points although slightly up from its prior quarter’s 3.37 points reading.

This sector, however, surprised on the upside in the Near Term Expectations Indices of Property Market Activity, the survey showed.

The brokers saw the negative economic impact from Covid-19 lockdowns as still being a major influence on their near-term market activity expectations in all three major markets.

Forty-four percent of them perceived companies to be re-evaluating their office space needs, and in many instances downscaling, thus a key factor influencing their near-term expectations of market activity in this segment. Only 2 percent of brokers pointed to stock constraints, while a greater 12percent pointed to an oversupply of stock.

 

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people have proven productive while working from home. And while they are increasingly keen to return to the office, it has also shown up just how the offices should adapt according to new research.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says the question is how to modify the physical office as a place for culture, connection, community-building, and innovation while still allowing for that flexibility.

“When we design for connection and communication, then people’s individual experiences in the workplace becomes the most important measure of success,” she says.

Based on our research, here are six strategies and considerations that will shape the future workplace:

1. The office should remain mostly open

Despite concerns about the pandemic, 71% of workers we surveyed would like to go back to an office that is mostly open. Through our research over the years, we have found that mostly-open environments with on-demand privacy — like phone rooms or focus rooms — are most desired by employees and return the highest effectiveness and satisfaction ratings.

2. Flexible seating and self-identifying neighbourhoods

If you’re considering a shift to more unassigned seating, people’s preferences can be complicated. “In our survey we found that most people’s preference leaned towards having an assigned desk — only 17% were willing to share. This is perhaps unsurprising given the current health crisis — but when you offer the opportunity to work in a more hybrid way, just over half of workers (51%) would be willing to trade their assigned desk for greater flexibility to choose when and where they work, “ Trim noted.

3. Most work spaces in the office should be video-conference enabled

Offices should as standard provide video conferencing that will help connect distributed teams. Most spaces will need to be enabled for video conferences, taking into account factors such as acoustics, degree of enclosure, background sightlines, technology, and more. “There will be a need to overhaul the protocols and etiquette around how we use these spaces. With video conferencing potentially occurring not just in meeting rooms, but in semi-enclosed and open spaces as well, the office may feel buzzier than before,” Trim said.

4. Shift from workstations to collaborative spaces

With fewer workers typically on-site in the future, the balance of spaces at the office will need to shift to meet worker’s needs. Allocating fewer workstations to individuals frees up space that can be repurposed for a wider variety of collaborative spaces.

At the same time, companies and organisations can’t eliminate workstations entirely.

“Our survey found space to focus on independent focus work is still the number 3 reason workers want to come into the office. To support equity for employees, some spaces for individual focus work should be included in offices going forward.”

5. Create space for culture, mentoring and connection

Awareness of what others are working on outside one’s own team is particularly important to building and maintaining company culture in a more remote work environment.

“For example, through our research we learned that fewer than half of workers participated in coaching or mentoring sessions during the pandemic — but those who did were disproportionately in executive, senior leadership or managerial roles.”

Over video calls, it’s more difficult to see when team members are struggling and more difficult to discern how to best support them. Having a physical space to connect in-person and develop team and mentoring relationships is important not only to individual growth but also to an organisation’s long-term culture.

Ultimately, what we’re seeing is an acceleration of a trend that we’ve identified in our workplace research over the last decade: people already working in a hybrid arrangement have reported the highest satisfaction with their work situation.

“Now, with the pandemic, many more workers have gained the experience of working from home — and our latest survey results show that people’s office expectations are changing to match,” Trim concludes.

Eskom workers strike

By Lauren Isaacs for EWN

Eskom on Monday confirmed that some workers at its power stations would embark on a planned protest from Tuesday.

The demonstrators are temporary workers employed by contractors and Eskom Rotek Industries.

It is believed they are up in arms over the use of labour brokers.

Eskom’s spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said: “Eskom has put in measures to minimise the disruption to production and it bears noting that the matters that are being raised by the protestors are already before the CCMA,” he said.

On Tuesday night Eskom sent a notification on Twitter to say that the power grid was under pressure.

This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa said that government was making progress in overcoming the problems Eskom has been facing for years now.

Ramaphosa has used his weekly newsletter to address the energy crisis gripping the country.

He said that improvements were continuing in municipal debt collection and despite load shedding, maintenance work was continuing at power stations.

He said that South Africa would be buying electricity through a transparent tendering process that prioritised competitiveness and cost-effectiveness.

Government has gazetted ministerial determinations that will enable the development of more than 11,800 megawatts of additional power generation.

To attract the best and the brightest, many companies are creating an “anti-office” — a Silicon Valley inspired, more relaxed environment that looks more like a trendy coffee shop or the foyer of a boutique hotel.

But many of these inspiring workspaces are sitting puzzlingly empty, despite contrasting strongly with the more formal, conventional offices favoured in the past.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Despite significant investments to create inspiring workplaces that will attract talent, especially Millennials, many of these more casual and fun workspaces sit empty, while others are in constant use.

“The question is why do people choose one space over another? And is there a right formula for creating these spaces? Given the time and investment it takes, it’s really important for businesses to get it right the first time.”

Galloway-Gaul notes that most of the time, the primary driver for creating shared spaces is simply aesthetics with not enough thought given to the varied ways in which people actually work.

“People need more than a beautiful sofa and a coffee table. They come to the office to work. Organisations therefore need to turn their focus toward reducing what’s unnecessary and getting back to facilitating a focus on work,” she says.

Many shared spaces are designed primarily for social interactions and provide limited options for performance work.

“Unable to find the right space for doing heads down work, it’s not unusual, for example, to find people doing focus work in large spaces designed for collaboration or trying to collaborate in areas designed for respite,” Galloway-Gaul notes.

“It’s fine and even appealing to make the workspace look like a designer home, but businesses need to use every square meter of office space in a meaningful way, so these spaces can also be productive and help people perform.”

The key is to provide people with a mix of diverse spaces that support different work modes and styles. The lack of these may be why employees of large corporations are only moderately satisfied with the shared spaces their organisations provide them.

A study by Steelcase confirmed that employees prefer to work in a range of spaces, rather than a single setting.

SA’s minimum wage is increasing on 1 March

On 1 March, South Africa’s minimum wage will see its first increase since being introduced in 2019.

Unions were outraged at a previous recommendation of 5% increases, pointing out that the minimum wages introduced in 2019 were agreed in 2017, and are now much eroded.

  • The new national minimum wage will be set at R20.76 per hour
  • This is an increase of 3.8% on the previous R20
  • Annual consumer inflation was at 4% last month, up from the rate of 3.6% in November
  • Unions sought an increase of at least 12.5% in the minimum wage this year

Here are the new minimum wages due to come into effect on 1 March 2020:

  • For work not covered by a special determination: R20.76 per hour
  • For domestic workers: R15.57 per hour
  • For contract cleaning staff: between R20.83 and R22.84 per hour, depending on the geographic area
  • For farm workers: R18.68 per hour.
  • For workers in government’s expanded public works programme: R11.42 per hour

In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers increasing spend on well-intentioned wellness programmes such as onsite gyms and standing desks.

But Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said while employees do like the extra facilities, “they want the basics first” – which is something companies tend to forget.

“Employees want better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalise their workspace more than anything else. It makes sense: these factors are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing.

“We are increasingly asked to consult to CEOs of South African businesses on how to improve poor workspaces which prevent people and companies from progressing. For them it’s become a pressing need to have people-first workspaces.”

A high-quality workplace can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year. This can have a major impact on the bottom line. Employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors.

Here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:

    • Stop spending on barely used office perks. “A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them,” Trim advised. They might then put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees like air quality and access to light. Interestingly, we find that many employees want a view of the outdoors.
    • Personalise when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalising our outside-of-work lives. We watch the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear. “Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace,” Trim noted. “Specifically, employees want to personalise workplace temperature, overhead and desk lighting and noise levels.”
      Research by global acoustics company St Gobain, which Giant Leap partnered with for a recent installation, showed that good acoustics could mean a 15% reduction in cognitive stress for office workers working in an open plan office. American technology company Cisco manages the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighbourhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.
      Others companies like US biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals allow employees to control natural light streaming in through their office windows with a cell phone app. “The same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core,” Trim said.
    • Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. Workplace wellness includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness.All three need consideration:
  1. Emotional wellness – give employees access to natural light , and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
  2. Physical wellness – provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
  3. Environmental wellness – make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.

Banks set to go on strike

All of the major banks across South Africa will partake in strike action on Friday unless a court rules in favour of stopping it.

If The South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) succeeds on Wednesday, service will be disrupted nationwide. The total shutdown may result in up to 70 000 employees downing tools.

Sasbo, which is affiliated with Cosatu, is is planning five marches throughout the country in Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. They are scheduled to take place from 10:00 onwards.

The union is striking over the digitalisation of banking practices which have lead to job losses and retrenchments in the sector.

The South African outlined how each bank might be affected:

Standard Bank
Employees: 54 000
Customers: 8.12 million (as of 2018)
Response: The bank are waiting for the court’s decision before responding to planned strike action
Other information: Standard Bank are said to have slashed 1 200 jobs in the last year, following the closure of 91 branches across South Africa. The bank is facing the harshest criticisms from the union.

FNB
Employees: Around 30 000
Customers: 8.15 million (as of 2018)
Response: FNB envisage staff shortages on Friday, but the group have customers to ease the workload by registering for online banking, or downloading FNB’s official app before the end of the week
Other information: They have expressed their willingness to co-operate with Sasbo, after getting wind of the potential bank strike last Friday

ABSA
Employees: 42 000
Customers: Between 8 – 9 million. Just over five million people use it as their “main bank”
Response: ABSA has confirmed to Fin24 that they “will deploy a business continuity and contingency plan to mitigate the impact on customers and clients” – they expect a small number of workers to strike.
Other information: Around 187 ABSA branches have been cut from service over the past decade

Nedbank
Employees: 31 000
Customers: 7.85 million (as of 2018)
Response: They have revealed through a statement that some branches will have “a limited number of workers available”, and continued to say: “For optimal service delivery, clients are encouraged to make use of our ATMs and our convenient digital banking platforms to transact.”
Other information: The institution has joined Business Unity South Africa’s application to halt the bank strikes. Around 1 500 Nedbank staff are currently facing unemployment or redeployment elsewhere

Capitec
Employees: 12 000 – 13 000
Customers: 10.2 million (as of 2018)
Response: A representative told Business Tech: “Over the past year, our staff complement has grown by over 200 people. We also plan to open a further 17 branches in the next six months.”
Other information: Don’t expect too much disruption at Capitec. Their ship remains steady on the bank strike issue

Cash machines, inter-personal bank services and a host of branches are expected to be impacted across the country.

In order to prepare for Friday, consumers should:

  • Withdraw money in advance and make sure you have enough to last a few days
  • Any tax-related payments to SARS should be made before the close of business on Wednesday
  • Register for your bank’s online banking or download their bank app. 
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