NATIONAL NEWS - Nonessential staff who are forced to work during the country’s 21-day lockdown period between March and April 2020 are entitled to call the police on their employers.
This is according to Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, who was speaking during Tuesday’s interministerial committee media briefing on government’s progress during the lockdown.
Although he did not specifically make the distinction, he appeared to be referring to people having to work in their workplaces, and not people who can do their work from home.
“It appears that some employers who are not delivering essential services and goods are forcing their employees to work.”
He said that these employers were either unaware of or choosing to ignore the national disaster regulations, which only provide for essential services and production to continue at this time.
“In terms of regulation 11(g), this is a criminal offence and puts at risk not only these employees but all who they are in contact with and goes against the call for as many of us as possible to stay at home.”
If employees who report their employers were subsequently victimised, Nxesi said they would be protected under the Labour Relations Act since their dismissal would be unfair labour practice and action would, therefore, be taken against their employer.
“I further call on employers to intensify their communication to employees informing them of their responsibilities during this period.”
Additionally, those who counted as essential staff and therefore had to work were entitled to protective equipment supplied by their employers as part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The department’s inspectors have been deployed in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to monitor the situation on this front and were being accompanied by the South African Police Service and officials from the department of trade and industry.
“The reason for the latter is that there is evidence of some employers having obtained fraudulent certificates declaring that they can continue to operate as essential services.”
He urged employers to do the right thing going forward and threatened that if the situation persisted, the department would be forced to name and shame employers who did not comply.
The minister had earlier said his department was dealing with concerns that employers were shifting the burden of the lockdown on to workers.
Some workers had to take unpaid leave during the lockdown.
“This is a unique situation that requires all of us to act in a manner that promotes social solidarity,” he said.
He said they had been dealing with some resistance from some employers on UIF funds.
“These are public funds and they must be ordered,” said Nxesi. The UIF could not deal with millions of individual claims and needed companies to submit claims on behalf of their staff.
“March salaries should have been paid,” he added.