News in South Africa 19th August:

1. Covid cases spike in KZN:

KwaZulu Natal is experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases, which experts say comes from super spreader events in the province – more specifically, the unrest and violent riots that took place in July.

Covid cases spike in KZN
Image taken by: Andrea Piacquadio

We can expect a further increase in COVID-19 case numbers in KwaZulu-Natal.  That’s the word from the director of the Centre for the Aids Programme in South Africa, Professor Salim Abdool Karim. He said this is the result of the superspreader events and violent unrest in the province.

Karim said some new infections were prevented because people were forced to stay at home.

The NICD reported 14,728 new Covid-19 cases in South Africa in the last 24 hours. The Western Cape recorded the highest cases – 3,931 – followed by KwaZulu Natal with 3,750 new infections.

2. Companies rewarding vaccinated employees:

Incentivising employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 may be a good way to keep the workplace healthy and safe, but companies risk running afoul of South Africa’s labour laws if they’re not careful.

As countries look for the quickest ways in which to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, incentives are being used to combat vaccine hesitancy. South African retailer Game recently announced in-store discounts for those who can prove they’ve been vaccinated, while Wimpy is handing out free filter coffees.

In other parts of the world, the rewards are much bigger. Some parts of the United States have a lottery system which offers fully vaccinated citizens a chance to win big cash prizes. Businesses in the United Kingdom are offering clothing vouchers, free meals, and discounts to young adults who get their shots.

And this strategy extends beyond big retailers and brand names. Companies are paying their employees to get vaccinated. For others, it is mandatory.

South Africa’s policy on mandatory vaccinations in the workplace is young, having only been addressed through the Consolidated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Direction published in June.

The new rules requires companies to undertake a risk assessment – in consultation with labour unions and safety committees – before implementing a mandatory vaccination policy.

“Depending on the nature of the employer’s business and the number of employees, it may be advisable for an employer to consider incentives for employees who are vaccinated,” the Webber Wentzel team stated.

“Such incentives may assist the employer to increase the rate of vaccination in their workplace and achieve ‘herd immunity’ thereby ensuring that the working environment is healthy and safe.”

But companies need to have a clear understanding of their objectives and messaging when considering rewards for vaccinated employees. Bux and her colleagues say employers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is the main intention/purpose behind offering incentives to employees? Is it to contribute to public health efforts and protect the well-being of employees? Is it to circumvent current legislation around mandatory vaccination?
  • Whether employees who refuse vaccination on constitutional or medical grounds will still be entitled to the incentive?
  • Whether it is possible for the incentive to be construed by some employees as unfair discrimination or an unfair labour practice? And how to defend potential claims by employees?

Companies who deploy a rewards programme as a way of shortcutting the latest OHS legislation on mandatory vaccination policies could land in hot water.

“Employers should therefore make it clear that vaccination is voluntary and that the incentive will be afforded to employees who voluntarily elect to be vaccinated,” said the Webber Wentzel team.

3. Proposal of state-controlled pension:

Investment experts say the government’s proposed plan to have South Africans put 12% of their income into a state-controlled pension fund isn’t a terrible idea – at least on paper.

The new government plan is outlined by the Department of Social Development in its Green Paper on Comprehensive Social Security and Retirement Reform.

It would go a long way in setting up a proper social security system while also removing its well-established trend of being a zero-savings nation.

However, there is a large caveat: it requires citizens’ trust in the government to handle the funds properly. Unfortunately, the state has not yet proven it can run a disciplined fiscus, and is mired in corruption and wasteful spending.

It’s useful to look at the examples of countries that have gotten this system right says Professor Adrian Saville from Gibs Business School.

But is the South African government likely or able to do so? “We have a state that hasn’t in recent times showered itself in glory with evidence that there is the ability to run a disciplined fiscus. Is that the enterprise that should also be putting together this 12% savings and investment scheme?” – Prof. Adrian Saville, Investment Specialist – Genera Capital

4. Grants to become more inclusive:

The Department of Social Development has published a Green Paper on social security and retirement, including a proposed overhaul of the country’s grant systems to cover a much wider group of people.

The current social assistance framework does not provide a ‘comprehensive floor’. As a result, the department said the largest portion of the population remains without any or very little social protection coverage.

“It is proposed that the means tests for social grants be phased out through alignment of social assistance with the structure of personal income tax rebates, and the safety net be expanded to include working-age individuals.”

“The objective is that all dependent children, the disabled and the elderly and those of working age, should be eligible for income support, regardless of their income or assets.”

This basic income will form part of a comprehensive social protection floor, it said.

The additional expense to the fiscus could be phased in over time through changes to the structure and value of tax rebates, subsidies and the possible introduction of additional tax, it said.

The proposal for the universalisation of the existing grants is premised on the fact that state benefits are mostly universal already but fragmented with different systems, criteria and benefit values.

5. R119.4mil stolen from banks in riots:

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) on Wednesday confirmed that at least 1 227 ATMs and 310 bank branches were vandalised or destroyed in the unrest that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in July, which alarmingly also saw R119.4 million in physical cash being stolen.

Sabric says this amount does not include the cost of the damage to banking infrastructure, such as branches and ATMs. “The theft of R119 400 243 in hard cash is very concerning,” says Sabric CEO Nischal Mewalall.

“Not all notes are dye-stained and millions in unsoiled notes will be injected back into the economy. This money is the proceeds of crime and there is now a war chest available to fund more organised crime, to corrupt more officials and to promote lawlessness,” he adds.

Mewalall also raised concerns around “the impact of intelligence failures and the state’s response to the eight consecutive days of civil unrest that resulted in unprecedented destruction of banking infrastructure in South Africa”.

According to Sabric, of the 1 227 ATMs hit, 256 ATMs were breached or broken into using force and 82 in-branch safes were also breached. Around 36 ATMs physically stolen from sites have not been recovered to date.

“Sabric therefore urges businesses to be stringent about cash threshold reporting, to not engage in facilitating suspicious transactions and immediately report any suspicious and unusual transactions to the Financial Intelligence Centre,” it adds.

Meanwhile, Banking Association South Africa (Basa) earlier this month reported that more than 1 400 ATMs had been affected by the unrest.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, ENCA, Business Insider, 702, and Moneyweb.

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