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News : Union Expresses Concern as Work Resumes at uMhlanga Call Centre Despite Lockdown Extension


Durban, South Africa, April 20, 2020 -- The uMhlanga call centre that was shut down last month for allegedly breaching the government’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations, resumed operations last week.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) raised the alarm on Tuesday that CCI South Africa, which employs about 9 000 workers, had issued staff with a return-to-work notice.

Cosatu’s Edwin Mkhize said it was irresponsible for all workers to abruptly return to work while the government battled to curb the spread of the virus.

"This is quite disturbing, noting that the lockdown has not ended -instead, it has been extended to April 30," he said.

Mkhize said Cosatu opposed the directive issued by the KZN MEC for Economic Development, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, which clarified the status of call centres as an essential service.

"Further clarity must be given on the government’s directive prohibiting the gathering of more than 50 people if CCI is exempted from such rule," he said.

Economic Development spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya said: "What the MEC has done is to issue a letter to all call centre operators across the province, explaining what exactly is an essential service and what type of essential services call centres are expected to provide as guided by the national government."

In a letter issued by Dube-Ncube, the department said the possession of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s (CIPC) certificate was still subject to the company fully complying with the applicable lockdown regulations, and did not in itself constitute the right to continue operating during the period.

"Only businesses which provide essential services in terms of the lockdown regulations, as amended, issued by the Minister for Cogta may continue their operations during the Covid-19 lockdown."

Peter Andrew, CCI’s legal director, said the company was providing an essential service.

"CCI is providing an essential service and operating in compliance with the Covid-19 Disaster Management Regulations and all directives pursuant thereto," said Andrew.

Business Process Enabling SA (BPESA), the industry body that CCI falls under, said the call centre had been operating legally and according to Covid-19 regulations when they were shut down.

Andy Searle, the chief executive of BPESA, said there were 65 000 international jobs in South Africa, of which 21000 were classified as essential services.

"Out of 21000, we have currently less than 2000 people across the country delivering that work," said Searle.

He said there were fewer than 500 people split into different shifts and branches, including working from home at CCI.

"I think it’s important to celebrate the role that these young people are playing, they are very brave.

"They are doing it voluntarily and are fulfilling a service without which we would really struggle in South Africa at a citizen level," said Searle.

He said they had seven companies providing essential services to international markets in KZN, including CCI.

"Some of these companies are providing essential services to, for example, other government agencies, just like ours but they’re just summarily shut down," said Searle.

He said the government issued directives to enable certain call centres to operate during the lockdown.

BPESA worked with its KZN partners and government departments, especially the provincial Department of Economic Development to ensure that the directions and regulations would be properly interpreted by law enforcement on the ground.

"That letter was issued which then made it possible for our companies to feel confident enough to continue doing legally what they had been doing," said Searle.


Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

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Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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