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Industries urged to gear up for the return of workers

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Government has called on industries that are set to return to work in May to ensure that proper measures are in place to receive the returning workers, while working to limit the spread of COVID-19.

This comes as government gradually eases the economy back into activity as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week. The regulations were introduced in March as government sought to counter the spread of the virus in the country.

Last week Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel presented the details of government’s Risk Adjusted Strategy which was subsequently put up for public comment and consultation.

With over 70 000 submissions in just 48 hours,  government announced new regulations that will see several industries return to work come May 1st.

“The purpose of the new approach is to align or balance the level of openness in the economy and social activities with the level of risk to enable us to restart or increase as many activities as possible given the health risk.

“The main point is to save lives and as many lives as possible and avoid the personal devastation of losing loved ones too early and when it is avoidable,” said Patel.

The easing of the lockdown follows the President’s announcement that the country will move to level 4 which means that the level of infections continues to remain high and health systems are not fully geared up to support influx of patients.

At the same time, level 4 allows for the easing of lockdown measures so that the economy can pick up speed.

“As government we want to re-open production but this has to be carefully balanced with a need for a deliberate and cautious approach to easing the lockdown measures so as to limit the movement of people.

“The virus does not move it is people that move. We shift the virus in society and this cautious approach allows us to ease the lockdown measures,” said the Minister.

More industries return to work

When the lockdown came into effect on 27 March, several sectors and industries were deemed essential and continued to function. These included all energy, water and sanitation, telecommunication infrastructure, health sector, food production, healthcare and hygiene products

Under level 4, the manufacturing sector will expand and include the re-opening of more factories and workplaces with 30% of workers returning to work in a phased approach.

“For example half of the workforce will be phased back to work … in sectors like the automobile manufacturing value chain and this will include small and medium enterprises who produce the components that go into the cars.”

It will include the steel and metal sector, cement and construction material, rail and ship building, the manufacturing of winter clothes, bedding and heaters.

The construction industry will also reopen in areas of water, energy, sanitation, road and bridge projects including local road repairs. Retail will resume economic activities with stores, spazas and informal traders returning to work.

Shoes, bedding, winter clothes, children’s clothes, home office equipment and hardware will be permitted in level 4.

The list of products allowed to be sold through e-commerce will be expanded incrementally.

Rotation of workers

In cases were only a percentage of workers have returned to work, companies should structure their operations so that they rotate people so that every worker will have a chance to work even though it will not be on a normal basis.

International trade

On international trade, government has started with the gradual reopening of additional products that are now permitted to be imported. Government will be looking at expanding these in future.

Buy local and support industry

With many more of the country’s port facilities set to re-open, Patel appealed to South Africans to buy local goods to support manufacturers as this will create demand in the local economy.

“The main challenge is to implement a phased and cautious return to work and to do it successfully without the rapid spread of the virus. If we can achieve that and increase the level of testing it can lay the basis to move to level 3 and … get back to greater levels of production and greater levels of normality,” said Patel.