Covid-19: Unions call for special UIF for quarantined workers

OR Tambo International Airport employees are seen covered in masks to protect themselves from Covid-19. Picture: Cebile Ntuli/City Press
OR Tambo International Airport employees are seen covered in masks to protect themselves from Covid-19. Picture: Cebile Ntuli/City Press

As cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus continue to rise in South Africa, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) has called on Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi to urgently gazette a special policy that will activate a special Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

This would be for purposes of financially assisting workers in the event that they are quarantined and cannot go to work.

“The impact of the virus within the work environment lies directly within the jurisdiction of Minister Nxesi and the federation henceforth urges the minister to proactively implement crisis management measures by activating the existing UIF surplus to help workers who might test positive for corona,” Fedusa general secretary Riefdah Ajam said.

Fedusa – which boasts over 700 000 members from across the health, hospitality and ecotourism industries among others – is the second largest union federation in the country.

Our members at key points of entry in South Africa and frontline staff at critical institutions such as airports, schools, hospitals, hospitality and ecotourist industries to name a few, are crying out for decisive leadership and assurance.
Riefdah Ajam

Ajam told City Press that this call comes as a result of existing legislation not making any provision in terms of remuneration for workers with regards to scenarios that could arise as a result of the Covid-19, for example the mandatory 21-day quarantine for workers after testing positive for the virus.

“It is in this context that Fedusa calls on Minister Nxesi to gazette a special policy that will activate a special UIF payment for quarantined workers considering the fund’s substantial surplus. The special UIF dispensations will also automatically compensate the employer for lost productivity,” said Ajam.

She added that the organised union “was trying not to have a scenario where workers find themselves being inconvenienced on two fronts, one by them not being able to go to work and having to foot medical bills only to also be subjected to pay cuts as a result of being quarantined”.

Ajam said steps have already been taken to contact Nxesi “since he holds custodial responsibility under Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) which prescribes the “general duties of employers to their employees’’.

“Section 8(1) clearly stipulates that the employer is obligated to provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and without risk to the health of their employees,” she said.

As it stands, Section 22(1) to 22(4) of South Africa’s Employment Act stipulates that during each 36-month cycle starting from the first day at work, an employee is entitled to paid sick leave.

And this should be equivalent to the exact number of days that they usually work in a typical 6-week period.

This, therefore, means that in case the employee works five days per week, then they are entitled to a 30-day sick leave on full pay.

On the other hand, if the person works six days per week, then they will have a 36-day sick leave on full pay.

When distributed across the three years, one may have 10 to 12-days paid sick leave per year meaning that should they have to be quarantined for 21 days the rest of the days would not be paid for.

The union also expressed concern over Fedusa members “who have directly been exposed to health hazards at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital since March 7, where two patients with specific symptoms of the coronavirus are being treated”.

“Our members at key points of entry in South Africa and frontline staff at critical institutions such as airports, schools, hospitals, hospitality and ecotourist industries to name a few, are crying out for decisive leadership and assurance, at a time when our economy is in a technical recession,” said Ajam.

On Thursday the ministry of health announced that the number of those infected by Covid-19 had risen to 17.

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

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July 2020

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