Despite the government’s regulation that only essential workers may work during the 21 day national lockdown, many companies are forcing employees to work under questionable circumstances. ANC Deputy Chief Whip in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and ANC Youth League Western Cape chairperson, Muhammad Khalid Sayed, said he has been swamped with calls of employees that are being forced to work under false pretences.
“Since the lockdown started companies have been urged by the president to adhere and ensure that lockdown regulations are obeyed and that the safety of workers is ensured, but what has been happening is many companies particularly call centers who are selling commercial products that are not essential services have been trying their best to persuade their staff that they are,” said Sayed.
Sayed advised that if companies unlawfully redefine themselves as essential services when they are not, this defeats the purpose of the lockdown.
Furthermore, when employees ask to see the mandated documents that certifies the company as an essentials service fake documents are produced.
“Some of them [employers] that do not produce certificates claim that they have got certificates, when the employees ask to see these certificates they run away or they just refuse,” stated Sayed.
On the other hand, Sayed claimed that workers are being forced to come in or face the consequences of being fired. Sayed also commented that other companies are giving the option of deducting from workers annual leave.
“All of these are going against the directive of the President even the Minister of Labour said these are not normal circumstances, you have no right to cut into the annual leave of the employees,” said Sayed.
Sayed stated the call-centre industry is a very vulnerable one because it does not have its own trade union movement. Thus workers are susceptible to ill-treatment.
“They [employees] are exposed to major health risks, we have received reports that sanitizers are not provided, social distancing is not observed,” said Sayed.
However, Sayed said certain companies have changed their tune once the law got involved.
“There have been cases where we managed to intervene, we have worked closely with the trade union COSATU and the abor department and after we spoke to certain companies some of them have back-tracked and said they are going to make provision because they make a lot of profit, they have made provision to allow their operators to work from home,” stated Sayed.
Sayed urged other companies to fall in that route or bear the costs.
“We want to signal a warning that even after the Covid-19 lockdown we are going to come for them and we are going to name and shame,” threatened Sayed.
South Africa has recorded more than 1,325 cases of Covid-19. So far, five deaths have been attributed to the virus. South Africa’s total number of cases is the highest on the continent. Even so, some companies have acted unlawfully and redefined themselves as an essential service.
Sayed has advised that companies do the right thing while they have the chance. He further continued and said if employees need to lay a complaint their point of call should be the South African Police Services (SAPS) because it is a criminal offence. Other than that they can call the Labour Department or the spokesperson of the ANC Youth League on 071 742 7236.