Dear Employer in the Metal and Engineering Industry
Solidarity submits this letter to employers in this strained industry on behalf of all employees employed by yourselves and not just on behalf of the members we represent. This letter serves as a respectful response to several communiques distributed during the past few days on how employers should deal with employees during the forced Covid-19 lock-down imposed by the President of South Africa.
At the outset, Solidarity will concede that this industry has been in dire straits for several years prior to the pandemic and that the economic outlook for the times beyond the pandemic appears to be very bleak indeed. It should be noted that Solidarity, while representing our members, fought (and still fights) side by side with employers in this industry to find solutions to keep this industry in business. We further concede that the advice given in recent communiques may, overall, be legally correct in normal circumstances.
In this letter, however, we wish to deal with the human side of the employer/employee relationship and what would be “reasonableness” in abnormal circumstances. Notwithstanding the advice you have received, we want to implore you not to use the “no work, no pay” principle as a point of departure for salary payments. In much the same way as the President’s announcement is now forcing your hand from “business as usual” to “business unusual”, employees will be forced to protect their families against an invisible deadly enemy while dreading the reality of how the same family will be fed after the next payday, and possibly thereafter.
It is our view and our call on employers to look beyond the 21-day lock-down and to consider the humanitarian crisis all South Africans may have to face if employees are not able to buy the vital necessities to stay healthy because of the non-payment of salaries. While we should, at some point post Covid-19, concentrate on rebuilding the economy, we will be dealing with another major humanitarian crisis if we do not act in a reasonable way in abnormal circumstances.
We understand the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis on your business too, but we request employers to be considerate and inclusive when dealing with the payment of salaries of employees. Let non-payment of salaries be your last option when you start discussing other options with employees and trade unions. Please be open to discuss alternatives with employees and trade unions before a final decision is taken. Responsible trade unions will know the limitations that exist in this kind of crisis and that working together will be the only means to find solutions.
While alternatives may vary, Solidarity proposes a short list of alternatives that could be considered, bearing in mind your specific business constraints:
- Consider moving paid normal leave forward and not during normal shut-down periods;
- Consider allowing “special leave” where normal leave days have been depleted and require these employees to work the leave hours back (unpaid) when normal production resumes;
- Consider paying December leave bonusses now, instead of allowing unpaid leave. This will mean no leave bonus in December, but it will make provision for some income during this period of 21 days;
- Consider sharing the loss of income burden with employees and allow the employer portion to be worked back when normal production resumes;
- Consider employees continuing duties from home, where possible;
- Consider the payment of 2020 paid public holidays upfront and consider the paid public holiday as unpaid when we reach that date;
- Consider paying the difference between the actual salary and that which can be claimed through the Unemployment Insurance Fund under current circumstances;
- Consider all other options put forward by government but consider that it may entail lengthy implementation periods and/or change drastically as time passes.
The above list of options is not exhaustive, and Solidarity again urges employers to engage with employees and trade unions, as a matter of urgency, to find a workable solution for both your business and your employees.
Solidarity remains committed to serve our members and this industry during these trying times. Please feel free to contact us to discuss any matter of importance during this lock-down period and beyond.
Deputy General Secretary
Metal & Engineering