Corporate South Africa needs to do more for the people

 

In the face of worldwide uncertainty, it’s up to those who have power to do what’s right. Right now, the citizens of South Africa spend their days facing the fear and anxiety that come hand-in-hand with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s time for corporates to use their influence and resources to uplift the rest of society. A global crisis does not justify half-measures.

As the first of a series of initiatives to give back, The Unlimited recently launched its #ProtectingOurHeroes campaign, to recognise the efforts made by the essential workers who make the biggest difference. Nurses, police officers and teachers are bearing the brunt of the battle against the Coronavirus, working tirelessly to keep us healthy, protected and educated – all while being woefully underpaid. We believe that these essential workers deserve to be safe when they travel to the frontlines, which is why we have offered them FREE Personal Accident Cover. While teachers may not fit the typical definition of ‘essential workers’, we believe that this campaign reflects their struggles as well, because they’re essential in developing our future leaders.

We salute their incredible efforts, and if this insurance can help them save even a little money each month, we hope that this will relieve some of their financial strain and allow them to invest in something else for themselves and their families. We believe that corporates have to make even more of an investment into their CSI (Corporate Social Investment) work now more than ever, instead of worrying about the bottom line. Collectively we can make an all-important difference in people’s lives.

While some companies have spent millions on above-the-line media campaigns, that money could probably have been spent on more tangible work that directly affects South African lives, particularly those who are struggling financially. It’s our responsibility to not only help the country at large, but to also keep those who work for us safe. We’ve seen countless news stories of corporates retrenching thousands of staff in the wake of the economic volatility caused by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. While the lockdown has prevented the worst-case scenario from a health perspective, the economy has suffered instead, with job insecurity rising across every industry.

The National Treasury estimated in June that job losses could be anywhere between 700 000 and 1.8 million, but these dire numbers can be averted if corporates put their workers over profits. At The Unlimited, the people who work for us are our family, and we’d be hypocrites if we promised to change the lives of our customers and then start retrenching the people closest to us. Yes, the economy is reeling, but now is the time to buckle down, get creative and find ways to protect jobs as the first priority. Employees are the lifeblood of a business and deserve your efforts more than shareholder returns and profit.

We were able to find ways to protect our family, without salary cuts, and for those of us who were struggling during the lockdown, we also gave them a little extra. Our Face-to-Face (F2F) sales team, which meets potential customers in person to outline our services, was unable to work during levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown. The team usually works on commissions, but this was no longer possible, of course, which was why the rest of our team took it upon themselves to make sure we were all secure. We all gave up our quarterly bonuses so we could give a monthly salary to the F2F team. Even though they’ve been able to venture into the outside world since the lockdown regulations were eased, we’re still filling in the gaps in their monthly salaries while they get their sales numbers back up.

When we first approached the full team with our plan to temporarily cut bonuses and increases, we were wary they might not be happy. But the concern for their F2F colleagues was real, and we received the opposite response.

Transparency, we believe, is key in maintaining morale with your team during this terrifying worldwide event, and we call on businesses across the country to keep the lines of communication open with their workers and let them know they’re protected. Corporate South Africa, we have to do better.

About Andrew Wood:

Andrew is the CEO of Unlimited. He writes in his personal capacity

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