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Labour dept warns businesses to comply with Covid rules as many return to work

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“In the last few weeks, the country has seen major outbreaks and a high prevalence of Covid-19 and it follows that workplaces are likely to experience significantly higher cases as asymptomatic or untested workers return.”

An example of social distancing in office spaces. Picture: Wikipedia.com

AS EMPLOYEES returned to work today, the Department of Employment and Labour warned businesses and industries to ensure compliance with Covid-19 safety at work under the adjusted Level 3 regulations and said inspections will be carried out.

Department of Employment and Labour director-general Thobile Lamati said that during the first Covid-19 wave, the Compensation Fund received close to 15,000 Covid-19 claims, of which 29 were claims in respect of people who had died as a result of contracting the disease while at work.

Lamati said: “R30 million has been paid out in processed claims and with what we have seen of the second wave, we are likely to see exponentially higher numbers of infection if industries and business take the business-as-usual approach.

“In the last few weeks, the country has seen major outbreaks and a high prevalence of Covid-19 and it follows that workplaces are likely to experience significantly higher cases as asymptomatic or untested workers return. This is why issues of health and safety should be uppermost in the minds of employers and employees.

“It is crucial that industries, businesses and entities, both private and in the public sector, must take all the necessary care to ensure the safety of workers, their families and the clients and or suppliers.

“Most of the industries in the first lockdown period did develop these plans and it may be that those plans need to be updated with the new information they have acquired since then or where improvements need to be effected. Our inspectors will continue to ensure that businesses and industries adhere to regulations.”

Department spokesperson Musa Zondi said non-compliance with the relevant parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Act could land employers in trouble with the law.

In such cases, Zondi said: “A magistrate will determine the appropriate penalty.”

Meanwhile, with regards to workers returning to offices after spending time in hot-spot areas, the director of Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr’s employment law practice, Aadil Patel, said: “Employers should alert employees to the fact they will be required to self-quarantine upon return from a hot-spot area and that they will need to make use of annual leave or unpaid leave for this period where they are unable to work from home.

“Under the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19, requiring an employee who has returned from a hot-spot area to self-quarantine, it can be argued that this does not amount to unfair discrimination.

“In cases where an employee is unable to work from home, the employee may make use of their annual leave for the quarantine period. Where an employee has exhausted their annual leave, the principle of no work, no pay will apply and the employee will be placed on unpaid leave.”

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