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COVID-19 EFFECTS: 2 645 RETRENCHED, 29 979 LAID OFF

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MANZINI – A total 32 624 workers were directly affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 in the past two years as 2 645 were retrenched and 29 979 laid off.

This is according to the office of the Labour Commissioner, which is under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. In terms of statistics, Deputy Labour Commissioner, Kingdom Mamba, said between March 2020, when the country was hit by the outbreak of COVID-19, and December 31, 2021, 29 979 employees have been formally laid off from 261 companies that have received approval from the office of the Labour Commissioner. Mamba said six of the approved companies had twice applied for extensions and they were counted once in the total number of employees affected. He added that eight of the approved companies had applied for amendment of their initial layoff applications due to various reasons including omission of some employees and reductions of the number of workers, to mention a few.

Applications

He said 13 companies that applied had their applications denied and were advised to invoke other options as provided for by both the guidelines on employment contingency measures and the Disaster Management. “10 companies were denied in favour of shift work, while three were denied in favour of short time,” he said. Furthermore, Mamba said eight of the companies were advised to apply for layoffs in terms of their Wages Regulation Order, since the layoffs were applicable in cases such as lack of orders and raw materials. As a result, he said 234 applications were processed and approved by December 31, 2021.

In terms of the layoffs, he explained that employers were compelled to refuse employment under certain circumstances; shortage of raw materials, power and finance issues were arising temporarily in the industries. He said all of the laid  off employees were to be taken back in their usual posts, as soon as the layoff was lifted out.  On the other hand, he said 2 645 employees out of 88 establishments were made redundant within the same period (between March 2020 and December 2021).

Terminations

He added that in 2020 a total of 889 employees were retrenched and these included cases of mutual terminations and sale of business/takeover under Section 33 of the Employment Act, No.5 of 1980. On another note, the deputy labour commissioner said government had challenges regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, as it exposed the country on how ill-prepared it was to deal with contingencies such as the pandemic, especially in two areas. He said one of the arears was that there was no legal framework to manage labour space during pandemics. “There was also lack of funds to cater for contingencies brought about by pandemics,” Mamba said. As a result of the above identified areas, he said government was in the process of finalising the Unemployment Benefits Fund Bill (UBF) aimed at providing social security benefits to employees when exposed to unemployment contingencies.

Again, he said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Eswatini National Provident Fund (ENPF) had provided technical and financial assistance respectively to the development of the Unemployment Benefit Schemes, which would be governed and regulated by the Unemployment Benefit Fund Act (currently at Bill stage). On a positive note, Mamba said the county had recorded some successes. He said this was because the country managed to prevent major job losses in favour of loss of earnings. He said this was done by deferring retrenchments in some companies which would have resulted in a large number of permanent loss of employment of emaSwati employees. “Instead, we contained the joblessness to only 88 companies which retrenched 2 645 employees from January 2020 to December 31, 2021,” he added. He said within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region, Eswatini was the only country which successfully prevented permanent job losses in favour of loss of earnings in some companies.

Security

In addition, he said as a country, they had realised that their bond of security of wages equivalent to one-month salary in terms of Section 62 of the Employment Act, No.5 of 1980 was not enough to cater for contingencies such as COVID-19, hence, they were about to establish Unemployment Benefit Fund schemes to cater for unemployment contingencies.  He said the lack of legislation to deal with the pandemic, the country was found wanting and they were in a process to enact a law which would deal with it.

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