The world is currently facing the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic which is affecting economies all over the world. As the number of infections continues to rise around the globe so is the effect of the pandemic on the labour market caused by the economic impact. The International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Director-General noted that COVID-19 is not only a global health and economic crisis but also a major labour market crisis having a huge impact on people. The ILO assessment showed that COVID-19 can possibly increase global unemployment by almost 25 million.1 This calls for consideration of the risks within each business as many companies are now facing significant cashflow pressure.
To help businesses navigate the labour challenges caused by the pandemic, we have highlighted a few measures that may be applied to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis to businesses in Tanzania.
Health and safety obligations
The COVID-19 pandemic has made workplaces a risky place for infections among employees, consultants, contractors and other visitors. The relevant authorities have been issuing different guidelines on measures to be taken to avoid or minimize the further spread of COVID-19. There is a need for joint action by both employers and employees at workplaces to ensure the issued guidelines are followed.
Employers have a general obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Laws to ensure safety, health and welfare of persons in workplaces. This includes providing protective tools and adequate information related to COVID-19 so that employees may take the necessary actions to protect themselves, their families and their colleagues. Employees, on the other hand, must cooperate with employers by taking all necessary precautions and by complying with the guidelines issued by employers and relevant authorities to fight the spread of COVID-19.1
Guidelines for working from home
Both employers and employees have a role to play in limiting the spread of the virus. As advised by health experts, working from home is one of the measures that should be considered where viable. If this option is considered, it is recommended that, in addition to making sure that employees working from home have access to reliable internet services and working tools, employers should consider having in place clear guidelines for the employees to follow. This may include guidelines on rights and obligations of employees while working from home, requirement to track working hours/overtime, measures of performance and productivity, etc.
Handling COVID-19 related absences from work
There are a number of reasons that may lead to an employee’s absence during this period. This may be due to COVID-19 related sickness, quarantine or taking care of relatives/others. It is expected that employers will deal with each case on its merit based on the pre-existing laws, rules and regulations applicable to the employer.
For COVID-19 related cases, the employee will be entitled to paid sick leave provided that the employee provides a medical certificate. Under the law, the maximum applicable paid sick leave is 126 days within a period of 36 months of employment. If sick leave has been exhausted or there is no medical certificate to support the leave, or prolonged absence from work due to sickness, termination is allowed under the law. However, before termination, the employer must consider available alternatives, e.g temporary placement, light duties, alternative work or early retirement.
For other COVID-19 related absences, and in absence of policies to that effect, the employer may consider unpaid leave, unused annual leave or temporary lay-off.
Termination due to the COVID-19 impact on businesses
Retrenchment/redundancies may also be considered where business operation is impacted due to a number of reasons. This may be due to temporary closure of operations and cashflow pressure caused by the crisis. This option is however subject to the requisite procedures provided under the law which includes consultation with trade unions, where applicable. The option is also subject to considering available measures to avoid or minimise the retrenchment, e.g. transfers, early retirement or voluntary retrenchment package.
The ILO’s initial assessment noted that the global impact of COVID-19 may place millions of people in unemployment and underemployment. It is therefore important for labour stakeholders to engage and devise appropriate ways to protect the labour market against the COVID-19 crisis.