We refer to the abovementioned matter.
Much has been written in the press over the past 2 months since the COVID – 19 virus was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. As you are probably also aware, President Ramaphosa announced last night that the State is taking drastic measures in order to combat the spread of the virus in our country.
Please take note that the writer hereof is not a medical expert, however, some facts are common cause in terms of information from the WHO. This document serves to put in place the reasonably practical measures that should be taken by a responsible employer. As an organisation, and as individuals, we need to take pro-active steps in trying to stop the spread of the virus.
First and foremost, you must not panic. A lot of panic has been created by way fake news on social media and other platforms. There is also a lot of mischief-making going around. For, example, the Department of Health in Gauteng indicated on Friday, 13 March 2020 that one of its circulars has been manipulated to cause panic and confusion. The Department issued a three – page circular, which was then manipulated into a two – pager, and this caused a lot of misinformation regarding the closure of schools. Another document was doing the rounds yesterday (Sunday 15 March 2020) that caused confusion in respect of the closure of schools. That circular, in fact, was issued by the government in Namibia and had nothing to do with the situation in South Africa. Even News24 reported last week that fake news stories are doing the rounds where their logo is being used and this created the impression that these were News24 articles, which they were not. Therefore, don’t listen to rumours. Make sure that you only consult reputable sources, such as the World Health Organisation’s website.
The virus is similar to any other flu – like virus. Symptoms can vary from mild flu – like to pneumonia – like symptoms. Information from the WHO, and two of the medical schemes locally, indicate that there is a category of persons at high risk. The people at risk are those with low immune systems. For example, the elderly (people older than 70), people who suffer from TB or are HIV positive, people with lung problems, and diabetics come to mind. For the majority of people that contract the virus, they will have mild flu-like symptoms. The recovery rate at the epicentre in China is already at 97%. It must also be noted that the countries where the virus is at its worst (China, Northern Italy and Iran, were (are) in the middle of winter and temperatures there are much lower than in South Africa currently. Our warmer climate, for the time being, will hopefully assist in fighting the spread of the virus.
We are a service delivery driven organisation and we must continue to be available for our members. It is therefore not practical to close our doors and work from home. Having said that, however, we must take pro-active steps to stop the spread of the virus.
Any member of staff who wants to self-isolate (or quarantine) will be required to take annual leave or unpaid leave. If you fall ill, as in the case of any other illness, you will be required to submit a doctor’s note to the employer.
Hereinafter follow practical arrangements that Regions should implement with immediate effect:
1. Avoid physical contact at all costs. This means not touching, greeting by handshake or hugging another person. Try to communicate over the internal phone systems of the organisation, where possible;
2. Although it is unsociable, try to avoid as much physical contact with persons in the office and in your home life;
3. Try to keep a distance of around 2 metres from another person when talking to him/her. For example, if you are consulting with a member, make sure that he/she sits across the table from you;
4. Disinfect all the time. Wash your hands as much as possible. Use a disinfectant soap;
5. If you have to consult with a member, then don’t use your office or an office with confined spaces. Use a boardroom or any other suitable larger office;
6. Make sure you frequently clean tools of the trade. This includes your cellular phone, tablets, your laptop screen and/or your telephone handsets. Conference tables and toilets must also be frequently disinfected;
7. Where practical, all office doors must be left open (this excludes the front door and bathroom doors!). This will prevent you from having to touch a door when opening or closing the door;
8. Please use throw – away (disposable) paper towels to dry your hands after washing them. In addition, also use throw – away towels to open, close, lock and unlock toilet doors and bathroom doors;
9. All non – essential meetings should be postponed until at least 17 April 2020. If issues can be resolved by way of electronic channels, then you must proceed to do so. Please discuss with your Regional Chairperson what practical arrangements can be taken to give effect to this – for example, reports can be sent out on email with recommendations and members of your committees can be given time to respond thereto;
10. Where members are being represented, the person representing the member, be it in arbitrations, disciplinary enquiries and grievances, etc., must take a common sense approach. If cases can be postponed, this must be done forthwith (until at least 17 April 2020). Where a postponement of a matter is not possible, you must ensure that the venue is not constricted in terms of size (remember the other parties in an enquiry are equally concerned about their health and wellbeing);
11. Where members apply for loans, they must be requested to use their own pens, and if they don’t have a pen, we must give the member a pen to fill in the documentation. Thereafter the pen must either be given to the member or it must be thrown away. This will also apply to other operation issues such as membership application forms, etc.;
12. Regional Managers are authorised to implement measures to ensure that staff using public transport are transported as safely as is reasonably possible. This may include a car pool arrangement or other methods (i.e. a member of staff with a car be requested to pick up and drop off staff, where possible). These arrangements will apply until 17 April 2020. If there are costs to be incurred to safeguard our employees traveling by means of public transport, then these costs must be incurred, but within reasonable parameters. If you are unsure about this issue, then please contact the General Secretary for guidance;
13. Regional Managers must establish whether there is sufficient capacity amongst the cleaning staff to continuously clean and disinfect workspaces and toilets. If you need additional assistance – especially in our larger offices, you are hereby authorised, in consultation with the DGS: Operations, to appoint a contract worker for one (1) month, with any further extension reviewable at the end of the month contract;
14. Boost your immune system as much as you can. Make sure that you speak to your doctor or pharmacist to take the correct amount and kind of vitamins;
15. Be vigilant in your personal life. If possible, avoid crowds and confined spaces for the time-being. This includes shopping malls, small gyms, movie theatres, pubs, etc. Follow the advice of the WHO and other doctors with regards to coughing, sneezing and washing your hands;
16. If you start having flu – like systems, then consult a doctor immediately;
17. Do not fall prey to opportunistic criminality (at present it is being reported that criminals are posing as Netcare officials purporting to be conducting door-to-door testing, and thereby gaining access to your home and belongings); and
18. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases also has a reputable website (www.ncid.ac.za) with plenty of information. Please use this resource as a means of educating yourselves and your families.
Regional Managers must frequently communicate with staff so that staff are kept abreast of developments. We will monitor the situation on a day – to – day basis. If more drastic steps are required, we will implement those as and when required.
Regional Managers must also ensure that municipalities take pro-active steps to ensure that our members are not placed at risk. Please advise branch committees to immediately discuss such measures with municipal employers.
Please don’t panic and apply common sense.
If you have any questions in this regard, please contact the writer hereof, the DGS: Operations, or the HR Manager.