NATIONAL NEWS - While most businesses will be able to operate from 1 June under level 3 lockdown, there is no reprieve in sight for the industry.
All hair salons, beauty therapists and cosmetology studios have been closed since March 27, when the nationwide lockdown began.
When the country entered level 4 lockdown on 1 May salons were allowed to sell beauty and hair-related products, but this has not been nearly enough as it only accounts for a fraction of their revenue.
According to draft regulations the industry is allowed to operate at level 1.
A petition organised by the Employers Organisation for Hairdressing Cosmetology and Beauty (EOHCB) to reopen salons received some 70 000 signatures, but has not made an impression on government to reconsider the level 1 risk adjustment.
The industry includes hairdressing, beauty treatments, makeup and nail salons and piercing and tattoo parlors, where government’s biggest concern is social distancing and human contact making them high risk.
The EOHCB group is planning to challenge the regulations in court, as their members cannot hold out indefinitely.
Louise McLeod of Lou Lashes, an owner-managed salon in Ballito, said: “In an industry that is already very aware of correct hygiene and practices, it is difficult to accept our industry listing as level 1.
Any work that puts food on the table should be essential work and for a small hands-on business, that cannot be done online. It is impossible to survive with no income until level 1.
A Ballito-based nail technician said she was facing financial ruin if she was not allowed to return to work.
“We understand the implications if we do not practise good hygiene and sanitation. If we are unable to work we run the risk of closing our doors permanently.”
Ballito salon owner, Claire (37) said: “Most of us will not see a cent of any of the money the government supposedly has to support us.
The devastating reality is that many small businesses will never see the light of day again. The only people advocating these restrictions are those sitting cozy with their incomes.
Jamie, a Ballito hair stylist for 12 years, has two children to support and said she did not know how long she could last on her savings. The single mother said hair salon workers could wear protective wear and should be allowed to return to work.
“I have spent so many years building up my business and to not be allowed to operate at level 3 is nonsensical. I have a mortgage to pay and two children at home. I am called selfish if I defy the orders and reopen my salon but feeding my kids is not selfish.”
A Ballito beauty salon owner said there were thousands of people working in the hair, nail and skin care industry who faced the same challenges.
Due to her continued overhead costs she said it was just not feasible to keep her salon going. The 39-year-old who usually saw six clients a day said the lockdown had left her financially devastated.
“I have had to pay rent and salaries and was hoping we would be allowed to reopen but now its just not possible to continue for another month. Nobody could have prepared us for something like this, ” she said.
The weeks of stay-at-home orders has also taken its financial toll on Ballito’s Cutting Edge Hair and Beauty salon owner, Shelley Stegen, who after 20 years has decided to close her doors.
One of the greatest challenges that have faced small businesses in this sector is accessing relief-funding.
While the government implemented several relief measures to support SMMEs, Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the R230 million budget committed by her department to support and assist small businesses may fall short. Ntshavheni also clarified that these are not grants, but soft loans.
A recent survey by the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) revealed that of the 53 percent of small businesses that applied for relief-funding, only six per cent of applicants received funding.
Reasons cited for this ranged from poor or no-response, unnecessary qualifying criteria and lengthy processes.
Because many who work in the industry are self employed they also do not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
Ilembe Chamber of Commerce CEO Cobus Oelofse said the economic chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to result in the “most prolonged economic stagnation of our lifetime”.