The Motor Industry Staff Association (MISA) has called on the employers in the retail motor industry and South African automotive industry as a whole to work together with labour to curb the loss of jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and extended lockdown.
This comes as the sector enters Phase 2 of its reopening under Alert Level 4, whereby dealerships are allowed to scale up to 60% of employment from 25 May 2020, and Alert Level 3 from 1 June, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 24 May 2020.
“While there has been much debate about the economic justification of an extended national lockdown, some researchers have noted that it could be a case of ‘wilful short-term pain’ for a longer term gain,” says Hermann Köstens, MISA’s CEO for Strategy & Development. “Nobody has definitive answers yet, but what we do know now is that role-players in the industry need to work together to preserve as many jobs as possible.”
According to Köstens, the financial effects on employers in the automotive retail sector has been widespread. “Unfortunately, workers in the retail motor industry are bearing the brunt of decisions by government and employers over which they have no control,” he notes.
However, Köstens believes there is a glimmer of hope on the retail motor industry horizon. Vehicle sales in China, and specifically Wuhan (the original centre of the virus) have shown a rapid recovery, with pent-up demand bolstering dealership activity and sales.
MISA is therefore calling on employers to not make hasty decisions about staff cuts and to rather find innovative and alternative solutions – not only for the sake of thousands of vulnerable employees, but also to the benefit of employers and the sustainability of the industry.
“The low interest rates, fast-growing middle-class market, and consumers who have shown to be highly adaptable in a digital environment, may well lead in a new era for our industry, where sales could recover fairly quickly.”
The union is therefore appealing to employers to act humanely in this unprecedented time. “Let us work together as unions and employers in the industry to the benefit of the workers,” says Köstens.
“It truly is business ‘unusual’, where we need to work together, not only as an industry, but as a country for collective survival,” he says. As a trade union, MISA has already stepped in by offering employers assistance in claiming UIF and TERS benefits on behalf of employees.
“This is an unprecedented move, but MISA felt compelled to assist employers with this arduous task for the benefit of their workers. Our primary goal is to assist our members in claiming TERS benefits, but we realised that all employees in the industry are in the same boat and, for this reason, we offered our assistance to employers for the benefit of all their employees.”
MISA represents more than 50,000 employees in the retail motor sector in South Africa.