Words: Almo Lubowski Images: Shutterstock
As we all know very well by now, South Africa is severely affected by the corona virus (Covid 19) and Government has already responded to this pandemic. The President declared a state of national disaster initially on 15 March and then on 20 March declared more stringent “lockdown” measures for 21 days until 16 April.
This pandemic will no doubt have a negative impact generally and more specifically on businesses. I want to try and answer some questions you may be having in this regard. The caveat being that the situation is ever changing, so not everything said may be totally applicable by the time of going to print. Many questions will remain unanswered, but I will do my best to cover a few important aspects.
Q Do small businesses have any legal recourse if they’ve been affected by the stringent new measures to prevent corona?
In this instance it is difficult to answer the question due to the fact this is unprecedented and there are few direct measures in place to deal with something of this nature. There’s little specific legal recourse, but government has made it clear it intends to establish and implement various forms of relief to small businesses especially.
Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Minister of Small Business Development, released a media statement on 19 March, saying the Department was ready to respond to the needs of SMMEs in affected sectors to mitigate the impact during the crisis. The Department was finalising a SMME support intervention comprising a Debt Relief Fund and a business Growth/Resilience facility.
The Debt Relief Fund would provide relief on existing debts and payments to assist SMMEs during this time. To be eligible for assistance under the Debt Relief Fund, applicants must demonstrate a direct link between the impact or potential impact of the pandemic on the business operations. This facility will therefore assist in paying for raw material, labour and other operational costs.
SMMEs requiring assistance need to enrol on the SMME South Africa platform (smmesa.gov.za) which went live on Tuesday, 24 March.
Q What are the laws around employment during this time that employers and employees should keep in mind?
During the recently announced lockdown, broadly speaking employees may well be required to work, but from their homes, unless they fall under certain essential services.
Working from home would naturally need regulations to manage how the individual is working from home and employers are within their rights to set such regulations and rules as long as they’re reasonable. Employees are required to follow lawful and reasonable instructions by their employers. Communication and following your company procedures would be key to managing the employment situation.
Almo Lubowski is director of High Water Advisory and Alcock & Associates Inc.