Companies under fire for operating during lockdown

Sasol, the country’s major chemical- and energy-producing company, is among those alleged to have forced workers to report for duty without observing government lockdown regulations aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections.

However, the company has denied any wrongdoing.

This has emerged after City Press received a tip-off last week that the organisation was forcing workers to report for duty to its Coal Tar Filtration East (CTFE) project, which was allegedly not critical, as it had been underway for years.

However, Sasol spokesperson Alex Anderson said last week that the project was important to enable the company to minimise its environmental impact, while further reducing health risks to personnel on-site.

“It’s near completion and is already integrated into the production process of synthetic fuels and chemicals. These are some of the factors that classify this project as essential,” Anderson explained.

He said the health and wellbeing of the company’s employees were its top priority.

Sasol therefore intends to voluntarily register for purposes of conducting these essential services and designate essential staff.

“With the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, several measures are in place to safeguard the health of our employees across the company, as well as those closest to them to mitigate the further spread of Covid-19. This extends to the personnel of our service providers and contractors. Sasol is not irresponsible in this respect.

“Sasol is fully supportive of government actions to arrest the spread of Covid-19 and we are co-operating fully with the authorities in this regard,” Anderson said.

He added that Sasol’s products and services fell into the designated categories of essential goods and services, as per the lockdown regulations issued by Co-operative Governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday last week.

“Sasol therefore intends to voluntarily register for purposes of conducting these essential services and designate essential staff, as provided for in the regulations, to continue its operations in order to ensure a safe and reliable supply of chemicals, fuels and related products and services to South Africa during this time,” said Alexander.

“Sasol will continue to observe all requirements in this respect, as these may be regulated or directed from various ministries from time to time.”

Asked this week whether Sasol had indeed “voluntarily” registered, the company said Sasol Ltd and the group had registered as an essential services provider with the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) and a certificate had been issued to that effect.

The DTI and Cogta have not responded to questions on whether there is such a thing as “voluntarily” registering to be classified as essential services.

Meanwhile, City Press also learnt of two other companies, K Snacks and StarTek, which were allegedly not complying with lockdown regulations.

Employees at Germiston-based K Snacks, a division of food producer Libstar Operations, alleged this week that social distancing was not allowed during shifts and that workers displaying flu-like symptoms were sent to the toilet as a form of distancing until the end of their shift.

In a statement on Friday, Libstar Operations said it had been designated as a company essential to the production of food.

“As such, Libstar’s operations remain open during the 21-day lockdown period. The safety, health and wellbeing of our workforce remain the single most important priorities during this time and we are operating in line with all Covid-19 regulation,” the statement read.

The company would not answer specific questions relating to the alleged use of toilets at K Snacks as a quarantine area, citing that it was following a “policy of engaging directly with our stakeholders at this time, but want to be helpful to the media, hence [we have given] a response, rather than no comment”.

Sandton-based StarTek, also known as Aegis Global, was similarly accused by workers of issuing them with permits indicating that they were performing essential services.

In a tip-off, an employee of the company this week alleged that they were actually a call centre dealing with travel and tourism for a United Kingdom company and questioned how they could categorised as “essential services” when they were dealing with holiday-makers.

Phillip Tshikotshi, the company’s associate vice-president and head of human relations, said information provided to City Press was incorrect.

“Just as a background: we are an outsourcing company specialising in call centres and we have domestic and international clients. During this lockdown period, we have shut down all call centres that are not considered essential, as per government regulations.

“The only call centre currently operating is the one supporting Telkom, as they are classified as an essential service under telecommunications,” Tshikotshi said.

He said the company did have other international campaigns that had been paused, but were later cleared to operate as of Friday, following a directive from minister of economic development Ebrahim Patel.

“We do have employees who aren’t happy about being considered essential workers while other campaigns of ours have shut down, and these employees also want a 21-day break. To that end, we’ve had employees call the police on us who would come through and inspect our facilities and documents, and they would confirm all to be in order,” he said.

Tshikotshi said Aegis Global was a legal entity, but had been taken over globally by StarTek.

The company continued to use the name of Aegis Global, which had yet to be changed.


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