A number of aspects are cause for concern regarding productivity within the South African construction sector. Socially, the lack of attention to social aspects such as morale and fatigue have the potential to result in high levels of absenteeism. Absenteeism has a negative economic impact, with project profitability reduced without adequate control measures. Productivity is an important factor for the overall performance of any size construction company.
Absenteeism costs economies billions in terms of lost revenue, production, and the additional costs to individuals. Mental and emotional issues account for 70% of the reasons for being absent from work, and the cost to the economy in excess of R2billion. Absenteeism is largely poorly understood, specifically in the construction industry. There is a paucity of information regarding the current rates of absenteeism, however approximately 4.5% of South African workers could be absent on any given day, which could exceed 25%.
However, now there is COVID-19. The 2 months of stages 5 and 4 lockdown have had a massive impact on the sector. Not related to absenteeism directly, but the economy as a whole. The introduction of level 3 from 1 June 2020 and all construction industries resuming work has changed the working front significantly. The approach to dealing with exposure or being infected with COVID-19 has changed the approach to absenteeism.
A range of legislation has been fundamental to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hazardous Biological Agents Regulations (HBARs), the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA), as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) are core to addressing work issues. The Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) are also required to be observed when considering the effects of COVID-19 and how it is managed from an absenteeism point of view.
Workers who are highly vulnerable are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 when exposed in the workplace. It is incumbent upon the employer to identify those workers who are at risk, and to allow them to work from home as far as possible. Workers who start to show symptoms or who have been exposed to someone who they discover is positive need to notify their employer. It is recommended that if workers know they have co-morbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, TB or any other chronic disease they should notify their employer and be sent for screening before being allowed to attend work. Not all contractors have access to occupational health facilities, so employers could accept a certificate from any of the chain stores who have clinics, a general practitioner or physician, or even the local clinic. Dealing with sensitive information in this manner would ensure the integrity of medical information.
Employers do need to ensure that workers are not abusing their sick leave. A worker who claims to be ill as a result of communal exposure would be required to submit a sick certificate and notify the employer through normal channels. Full remuneration is applicable, obviously determined by the individuals sick leave benefits at the time. Employees may not be discriminated against if a positive diagnosis is made.
Should a worker contract COVID-19 in the workplace, the case needs to be reported as a compensation case and although this would not be seen as an absenteeism case in the normal sense, it is still occupational sick leave, and has other consequences. In this case the loading of premiums could be a reality to the employer if there is arbitrary application of the requirements to manage exposure. Each case that is identified as positive must be investigated as if it is an accident and attempt to identify possible new risk factors, or failures in the mitigation measures. Daily screening of workers arriving at work is required and anyone with a temperature of above 38.5 degrees celcius or other symptoms are not be allowed on site.
How the COVID-19 pandemic will be perceived to affect absenteeism remains to be seen, and it already appears that given the stigma attached to contracting the disease has a negative effect. Issues of presenteeism or going to work even if you are not well is a reality with the reduced incomes of most South Africans. Adequate training is required to reduce this very real risk.
If you need assistance with COVID-19 compliance in your organisation please contact us on 08365853090 or [email protected]
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