The government has revealed its plan to protect its 1.3 million workers, the country’s largest workforce, from the coronavirus outbreak following pressure from trade unions.
The Department Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has admitted that the virus, also known as Covid-19, will result in departments requiring employees to work more hours to deal with the pandemic.
“I have therefore authorised, as delegated, a deviation in terms of regulation 4 from the provisions of regulation 49(1)(c) of the Public Service Regulations 2016 in respect of approved overtime compensation that exceeds the 30% threshold of the employee’s monthly salary due to exceptional circumstances,” said newly appointed DPSA director-general Yoliswa Makhasi in a circular sent to heads of departments and provincial administrations this week.
She said the deviation was an emergency response and was only applicable to national and provincial departments of Health, Home Affairs and Transport.
“The nature of the declared national state of disaster will place a significant strain on the human resources of departments,” she said.
However, Makhasi also warned that if public servants decided to self-quarantine after perceived contact with Covid-19 without medical intervention or submitting a request to their employer, the isolation must be construed as leave of absence and be deducted from annual leave and unpaid leave if insufficient leave credits are available.
“Disciplinary measures in terms of the disciplinary code must be invoked if abuse of leave provisions are identified during the containment of Covid-19.” The Public Servants Association of SA (PSA) had submitted a request to the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) to discuss the impact of the coronavirus in the workplace and ensure measures were put in place to protect public servants.
According to the PSA, organised labour raised serious concerns with the circular during a special meeting of the PSCBC on Tuesday and indicated to the employer that the document did not address workers’ main concerns.
The concerns included special leave provisions for employees exposed to unconfirmed cases and those who needed to take care of their children, with schools closed.
The unions also wanted provision for virtual offices for public servants and tools to work away from offices, special transport provisions, especially for those who using public transport.
They also demanded the banning of international and domestic flights, especially to high-risk areas.
“Labour also indicated that this circular from the DPSA is of a punitive nature and does not assist the situation at hand,” the PSA told its members.
On Tuesday, an agreement was reached for the parties to the PSCBC to draft a joint circular on Wednesday.
The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers also demanded increased protection for employees.