News in South Africa 12th July:

1. Standard Bank drops mandatory vaccines:

Standard Bank has withdrawn its Covid-19 vaccination policy with immediate effect, with approximately 95% of its employees already vaccinated.

Standard Bank drops mandatory vaccines
Image taken by: Gustavo Fring

In an emailed statement, the bank said it took a range of factors into account in reviewing its policy, including recent regulatory developments, the current state of the pandemic in South Africa, and the high vaccination rate amongst its employees.

In a statement issued to employees at the end of June, Standard Bank South Africa chief executive Lungisa Fuzile said that the country had reached a significant milestone in managing the Covid-19 pandemic and that the bank would be revising some of its safety measures and the existing Covid-19 policy and protocols.

“Based on the current context of the pandemic, we believe that our vaccination policy is no longer required. Consequentially, it is no longer compulsory for employees to be vaccinated, or to produce a negative PCR or Rapid Antigen test if they are unvaccinated, in order to enter our premises,” said Fuzile.

He emphasised that, even though the bank had withdrawn the policy, it continues to support and encourage vaccination.

Should circumstances with respect to the pandemic change, the bank may, in future, adjust and review its policy and protocols in order to maintain a safe working environment, he said.

“Thank you for all your efforts in helping us maintain a safe working environment and continuing to serve our clients in what has been a challenging time for many of us,” said Fuzile.

‘Unconstitutional’ 

Standard Bank’s decision comes after recent Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) rulings took various positions – for and against – mandatory vaccine policies.

In the past, the CCMA ruled that workers who were fired for refusing to take the vaccine were dismissed fairly. However, more recent rulings have found in favour of employees, citing unfair dismissal.

The latest CCMA case found vaccine mandates to be ‘unconstitutional’.

2. No load shedding for government:

Most South Africans must brace themselves for at least another 10 days of intense load shedding, but in Bryntirion Estate the lights will stay on.

This is the small suburb where the official residences of the president, his deputy and many ministers are situated.

This even though the national standard that regulates load shedding – known as NRS 048-9 – makes no provision for the exemption of politicians’ homes at any stages of load shedding.

Apart from stating that it adheres to the standard, the City of Tshwane refused to answer questions about properties it exempts from load shedding, citing national security and contractual agreements with customers.

The standard, which was compiled by stakeholders in the electricity industry and approved by the board of energy regulator Nersa, consists of more than 100 pages. It sets out under which conditions and how load shedding may be implemented, and how load must be restored after a system emergency.

‘One of the most important standards’ in SA

Vally Padayachee, special advisor to the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (Ameu), who played a leading role when the standard was written and adopted, says NRS 048-9 is one of the most important standards in the country.

“It is very important that we adhere to the standard. If we don’t the whole power system may collapse,” he says.

The principles underpinning the standard include that “all customers should by default be shed” and that users must be treated equitably.

The standard also states that load shedding must be implemented in a pragmatic manner to limit its impact as far as possible.

Only two properties  are explicitly named in the standard for exemption – the Union Buildings (the seat of government in Pretoria) and the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town.

3. Citrus industry destruction:

As much as R654 million worth of South African citrus, already en route to Europe, may be destroyed as the European Union’s (EU) new cold-treatment regulations for citrus is set to kick in on 14 July.

Last month, the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed voted in a new requirement that will force southern African countries to implement extreme cold treatment to tackle false codling moth (FCM).

More properly called Thaumatotibia leucotreta, the moth is known to feed on anything from avocado to maize, making its small and inconspicuous eggs a feared contaminant in fruit shipments.

If instituted this Thursday, it will result in millions of citrus cartons already headed for the EU being destroyed, said Deon Joubert, the Citrus Growers’ Association’s (CGA) special envoy for market access and EU matters.

The industry currently has numerous shipments of citrus fruit already on their way to the EU, which will reach their destination after 14 July, when the new sanitary requirements will have taken effect.

About 3.2 million cartons, valued at R605 million or €38.4 million, may be destroyed by authorities.

“These regulations make extensive changes to the current applicable phytosanitary requirements for citrus coming from South Africa,” Joubert said.

The CGA views the new regulations as drastic and misinformed. It said its management protocols have effectively protected against pests and diseases.

Over the past three years, South Africa has not registered more than 19 FCM incidents annually. It recorded 15 incidents last year, in contrast to more than 240 incidents from Europe and other third-importing countries. The EU has not proposed regulations for these countries.

The impacts of the decision will be dire for South Africa’s citrus farmers, who send as much as 800,000 tons of fruit per year to the European region.

It also virtually forces South African growers to halt exporting organic and “chem-free” oranges, which are prone to chilling injury.

“The fact that authorities are trying to enforce these new regulations a mere 23 days after publication, making it impossible for South African growers to comply, highlights how unjustified and discriminatory this legislation is – with European consumers and local rural workers ultimately paying the price,” said Joubert.

He said South Africa is currently engaging with its EU counterparts to reconsider the new regulations.

4. SARS strikes continue:

The Public Servants Association (PSA) and the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) will resume their strike at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) on Tuesday after wage negotiations with the tax body broke down again.

Spokesperson for the PSA Reuben Maleka said wildcat strikes at Eskom had plunged South Africa into Stage 6 load shedding and yet workers there still secured a 7% wage increase across the board. This indicated a gap between what the state was looking for and what was expected from unions at wage negotiations, Maleka said. 

SARS managed to call a halt to unions downing tools in May when it offered to channel funds from its savings in 2021 towards staff salaries, but it maintained that it could not afford to accede to the unions’ demands for a CPI plus 7% increase.

Now, the unions have rejected a proposed wage increase of 1.39%.

Earlier in the year, the tax agency had said the impact of the previous industrial action was minimal. But tax season started at the beginning of July, and many South Africans will be looking to get their tax returns in order in the coming months. 

‘Indefinite’ strike

“Tomorrow we begin organising at SARS for indefinite strike action. We are together with Nehawu on this. We are still stuck at 1.39% and it has been rejected. We believe that the only thing that will unlock the matter of negotiations is a strike,” said Maleka.

Maleka said a dispute had also been formally lodged at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.

“The strike that was suspended to continue with negotiations earlier this year resumes now. We have a mandate from membership who have rejected this offer, so the strike action that begins tomorrow is accounted for,” Maleka said.

5. Rand weakens further:

The rand weakened past 17 per dollar on Monday as the currency’s resilience is tested by fears of a US recession even as local fundamentals remain supportive.

History shows the rand tends to decline sharply when the world’s economic engine is in recession. Skipping the broad Covid-related slump in global markets in 2020, the US recessions of 2008/9 and 2001 knocked as much as 13% off the rand’s value. Based on Bloomberg scenario-planning tools, similar conditions this time round could see the rand weaken by about 12%.

In the first half of the year, the rand benefited from high commodity prices that lifted the current account into surplus. Improving fiscal metrics and a hawkish tilt at the central bank also helped. The market remains heavily long rand, according to US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data, leaving the currency at high risk of a sell-off as conditions change.

“Even more concerned by recession fears could be the crowded positions in popular non-oil commodity names like SA,” Bank of America Corp strategists led by David Hauner wrote in a note to clients. “They won’t escape tightening financial conditions, recession fears and de-risking, even if the long-term fundamental picture is likely to remain supportive.”

The rand declined as much as 0.8% on Monday to 17.0017 per dollar, the weakest level sine September 2020. It traded at 16.9972 by 1.33pm in Johannesburg, bringing its slump this month to 4.3%. The Bank of America strategists see it extending the decline to 17.20 per dollar.


All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Moneyweb, Business Insider, Fin24, and TimesLive.

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