Bidvest, one of the largest companies in South Africa, has forced 70,000 of its staff, who can’t work during national lockdown, to take leave.
If they don’t have enough annual leave days available, this will be unpaid.
These employees will each get R2,000 from Bidvest – “specifically for food and other essentials”, according to a company statement. Bidvest will also apply for a new Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefit to “top up” salaries.
As part of the new Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief scheme (TERS), the UIF will pay out a maximum of R6,730 a month (for those earning more than R17,700) to staff in companies that are in distress during the lockdown.
TERS will work on the same principle as maternity benefits. If a company can still afford to pay employees a part of their salaries, the TERS money will “top up” these payments – but employees can’t earn more than 100% of their current salaries.
Bidvest owns a large group of diverse companies – including freight, security, car dealerships and office service subsidiaries – as well as a majority stake in pharmaceutical group Adcock Ingram. The company generated sales of R77 billion in the year to end-June 2019, and employs some 100,000 people in South Africa. Only 30,000 are currently working during the lockdown.
“Some Bidvest companies are classified as essential services, but the majority of companies – and therefore employees – are not. This has had a major impact on the ability of certain companies within the Group to continue earning any income and where this has been the case, management has had no option but to make the best possible and affordable remuneration arrangements,” a spokesperson told Business Insider SA.
Bidvest has given a commitment that no employees will be retrenched during this lockdown period, and staff received their full salaries for March. Executives in the company have agreed to a 40% pay cut during the lockdown.
“There are approximately 80,000 employees (of the 100,000 people employed in South Africa) that earn less than R10,000 a month. It is hoped, therefore, that the UIF payments together with the additional R2,000 per month, will ensure that the majority of Bidvest’s South African employees receive their full salary during the lockdown period.
“Employees who are not working will receive a minimum of R2,000 a month, nett payment, at the end of April, and thereafter if necessary. This is in addition to the UIF/TERS benefits that we are arranging for employees to ensure that they are not left destitute during this difficult time,” said Bidvest Group CEO Lindsay Ralphs.
Bidvest saw its profits climb by almost 10% to R4.6 billion for the year to end-June, and generated more than R7 billion in cash.
“Many other listed companies are trying to protect their employees during this time – even struggling companies are trying to pay their employees 20% of 30% of their salaries,” one affected Bidvest employee told Business Insider on Monday. “It would be different if Bidvest is broke, but this is a huge brand. They are trying to protect the shareholders at our expense.”