New restrictions for South African businesses coming back from lockdown

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the ‘gradual and phased’ lifting of South Africa’s countrywide lockdown from 30 April.

However, Ramaphosa has made it clear that there will be strict new restrictions on the non-essential businesses that plan to return from this date – including a hard cap on the number of employees that may return to work.

“Every business will have to adhere to detailed health and safety protocols to protect their employees, and workplace plans will be put in place to enable disease surveillance and prevent the spread of infection,” he said in a national address on Thursday (23 April).

“All businesses that are permitted to resume operations will be required to do so in a phased manner, first preparing the workplace for a return to operations, followed by the return of the workforce in batches of no more than one-third.”

He added that in some cases, a sector will not be able to return to full production from 30 April (Level 4) while the risk of infection remains high.  Businesses will also be encouraged to adopt a work-from-home strategy where possible.

While more information on which businesses will be allowed to reopen will be outlined next week, Ramaphosa has confirmed that the following will remain closed:

  • Bars and shebeens;
  • Conference and convention centres;
  • Entertainment venues;
  • Cinemas;
  • Theatres;
  • Concerts.

Draft document

A draft document presented to the National Command Council on Monday may also provide an idea of what restrictions businesses are likely to face.

Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko confirmed that the document was prepared “as early input into the development of a risk-adjusted approach to resuming economic activity”.

Parts of the document have changed “substantially” and it is still being finalised, Diko said, however the document was widely distributed to businesses across the country.

Some of the key suggestions in the document include:

  • Workers above the age of 60, as well as workers with co-morbidities identified by the Department of Health, should be offered a work-from-home option or allowed to remain on leave with full pay.
  • There should be workplace protocols in place that would include disease surveillance and prevention of the spread of infection.
  • All employers to screen staff on a daily basis for symptoms of Covid-19, including a symptom check as well as temperature assessment.
  • All employees to use a cloth mask, especially where social distancing is not possible.
  • Work environment to have sanitisers available or handwashing facilities with soap.
  • Stringent social distancing measures should be implemented in the workplace.

The document also calls for strict rules around risk assessments and worker education. It also states that each sector must agree upon a Covid-19 prevention and mitigation plan with the minister of Employment and Labour, the health minister, and any other minister relevant to the sector.

Inspections 

In a parliamentary presentation on Wednesday (22 April), the Department of Labour indicated that it will continue with coronavirus inspections until at least the end of the year.

Currently, the department’s inspectors are provided a risk assessment and checklist which businesses are expected to follow in line with a health and safety guideline published on the department’s website.

Those businesses which are found not to be compliant may be shuttered by the department. Some of the biggest issues identified by inspectors so far include:

  • Employers were in possession of false certificates to operate as essential services;
  • Workplaces inspected had no risk assessments –  this is seen as a key contravention;
  • Failure by some companies to implement some of the best practices to prevent the virus from spreading.

Read: 3,953 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa – as deaths jump to 75

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New restrictions for South African businesses coming back from lockdown