Retail motor industry urges to be classified as an essential service

Says a large portion of its activities support other essential services.
Businesses in this sector are continually involved in repairing police and delivery vehicles as well as ambulances. Image: Moneyweb

As the vehicle and automotive component manufacturing sectors prepare to shut down their operations, in line with the countrywide lockdown, the retail motor industry has urged government to classify its activities as essential services.

A 21-day national lockdown was announced on Monday by President Cyril Ramaphosa in an attempt to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), said on Tuesday he was communicating with the appropriate channels at Business Unity South Africa (Busa) and the task team established by government “to motivate that a big portion of the retail motor industries’ activities should be classified as essential services, to support the other support structures providing essential services”.

Olivier said RMI member firms, which provide employment to more than 300 000 people, are continually involved in repairing police vehicles, ambulances and delivery vehicles.

He said the retail motor industry is not on the preliminary list of essential services, with the exception of fuel service stations.

“I have written and motivated the case for the essential services concerned to keep cars going at this time,” he said.

Repairs and maintenance

Olivier said in terms of designating the retail motor industry an essential service, this will largely apply only to the repair and maintenance side of the industry.

However, Olivier said there are other subsectors which are critical, such as the supply of parts and tyres.

Olivier questioned what happens in the lockdown period to a vehicle that has a mechanical breakdown or a flat tyre, adding that the tow truck industry should also be an essential service.

He claimed the United States and Australia are about to approve similar dispensations for the auto repair industry in their countries.

Mark Dommisse, chair of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (Nada), is adamant that there has to be some dispensation to allow vehicle repairs to be done.

“Trucks have to have a place where they can be serviced if they break down and also the food sector with all the motorcycles riding around. I think something will happen,” he said.

Dommisse also questioned why vehicle dealerships cannot have an emergency number and back-up plan to help people when they call.

Human factor

The retail motor industry and many other industries are grappling with how to treat their employees during the lockdown and whether to adopt a ‘no work, no pay’ policy for the duration of the lockdown.

Olivier preferred not to generalise about this issue because businesses are adopting different approaches to it.

But he said the majority of the RMI’s 20 000 member firms are small businesses and will find it difficult to continue as normal because “there is no work and no income”.

However, Olivier said the bigger businesses are being encouraged to look after their employees as much as they can.

Olivier said in cases where its members cannot afford to pay their employees, the RMI is providing assistance in how they can claim from the different funds announced by Ramaphosa.

“So there is no hard-and-fast rule at the moment, but the labour law does allow certain flexibility on what to do under the circumstances,” he said.

Olivier added that there are, for instance, different leave provisions, such as special leave, sick leave or annual leave.

He said there are also short time arrangements where people work fewer hours and get paid less, as opposed to working the normal 45-hour working week.

Dommisse believes vehicle dealership firms will grant everyone paid leave and use this leave to subsidise the unpaid leave they will be taking in the ‘no work, no pay’ scenario.

UIF benefit

He said there is also the R3 500 per employee in Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims that government has offered for the unpaid work period, which is significant. Ramaphosa said on Monday that “in the event that it becomes necessary” the government will utilise the reserves within the UIF system to extend support to those workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and other vulnerable firms who are faced with loss of income and whose companies are unable to provide support.

He said details of these will be made available within the next few days.

In terms of the government lockdown announcement, all of the country’s vehicle manufacturing plants – which provide employment to more than 30 000 workers – will stop production.

Attempts to obtain comment on Tuesday from the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA and the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers were unsuccessful.

Plant shutdowns

BMW SA announced last week it would be shutting down its Rosslyn manufacturing plant in Pretoria by the end of the week for two weeks, because of risks posed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and its impact on demand for new vehicles.

The closure of the plant affects about 2 500 workers and other group employees.

Ford on Monday announced that it is temporarily suspending production in India, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam in response to coronavirus.

The plant closures in SA apply to Ford’s vehicle assembly plant in Silverton in Pretoria, which employs about 3 500 employees, and its engine plant in Port Elizabeth, which has about 850 employees.

Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa GM of Communications Minesh Bhagaloo, responding to a question about the remuneration policy adopted by Ford during the lockdown, said the company has local agreements and arrangements with the local unions and government, and will pay its people accordingly.

BMW SA said the “flexibility instruments” agreed upon by the company will apply to the affected employees.

Read: ‘No need to stockpile’ say retailers

Thabo Mogoroe, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) Deputy Chair for the Hlanganani region, said on Friday the union had met with the management of BMW SA to discuss the financial compensation for employees during the plant shutdown period.

Mogoroe said the provisions of lay-off leave, which is a maximum of ten days, will kick in and means that workers will get paid leave for that period.

However, Mogoroe said management is thereafter proposing to use the “worktime account” as a measure of payment, which Numsa has rejected.

“The worktime account, also known as Siphephile, is like a loan. Workers will have to ‘pay back’ those days through overtime work which is why we have been calling for the entire system to be scrapped.

“As Numsa we are proposing that other alternative measures must be implemented instead.

“We have proposed that the Unemployment Insurance Fund should be used, or that the BMW Group must contribute something to workers in order to mitigate against the hardship which workers and their families will face during this period,” he said.

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Oh, why didn’t anyone tell me that the car industry has all along been trying to ‘save people’s lives’ and that it was erronously classified, as for profit, because seemingly they ‘intended’ to share the ‘good’ that they do with the rest of us, unbeknownst to me and others. Little did we know that they were providing, wait for it, an ‘essential service’. Just like nurses, and teachers and fire-fighters and EMS service providers. Does anyone believe that? Bugger-off, go rub yourselves with cacti or sehloko out there in Arizona desert. Phuuleez !!! This is the thing that irks me about private business, they want to privatize the profits and make their misery public – now we must bail them. Ag, use another argument instead – the government asked you to stop selling and your customers have been blocked from coming to buy, and you will die without business, so the government must help. Stop this ‘essential industry’ nonsense.

So, BS, what would you do if you hit a pothole and loose a tyre in the process, during this shutdown? Good for you if you have a full-size spare, not so great if it’s a ‘Marie Biscuit’ (those very narrow emergency spare wheels) and disastrous if you don’t have one at all! Even worse, you’d have to leave your car right there next to the road if tow-trucks are shut down!!! Well at least the guy who dissembles your car that night will have spare parts! Also, what do you do when your car breaks down in this period – even if you may know exactly what the problem is there won’t be a spares shop open to assist you, never mind a workshop! I agree with Mmmm below, you’re smoking STUFF…

I agree with you ‘experienced’. When you hit a pothole & destroy a wheel/tyre in the process, the normal thing to do is to go and buy a brand new vehicle…

That’s why vehicle manufacturing is essential 😉

Emergency services (incl. tow-trucks) will continue to operate, and your damaged vehicle will be taken to the nearest workshop (or panelshop) and wait its turn to be repaired after 21 days.

The fact that you’ll end up “on foot” does not constitute an emergency by this govt, unfortunately.

Plain and simple, it is for lack of putting it euphemistically , how do I put it delicaely; stupid to drive a car without a spare tire. I dont even believe in using a doughnut spare tire. I like a real spare tire, fully pumped to the recommened PSi and with a tire identical to the others. And for back up, I like to have tire fix. Its like good insurance, you never know when you gonna need it, it gives you peace of mind. Or you can take your chances, if you do, you will end up where you end up – just like you described or postulated. Then god help you. But what does that, have anything with the salient points I raised with the car manufacturers suddenly arguing that that they are an ‘essential service.’? If, I help you, just like a spare tire, when you run a business you ought to be saving or retaining some funds, if your business stops for any reason you eat the loss, or claim from your insurer but don’t come out here and try ans scam us for your lack of having a contingency plan and think that we should accept your lack of ‘a rainy day fund.’ As for all that smoking stuff, I don’t even want to waste my breath on such poppycock it just reveals you and says nothing of me.

OMG BS where do I start??? The ‘car manufacturers’ are not even members of the RMI. Read the article again…slowly this time. And please do so before you next puff. BTW I merely used the tyre as an example. Not sure why I’m spending my time on you…

Too many people are now growing their own “Stuff” at home.

April 1st is still on the way.

Any Vehicle Sales? No! – As most customers are in lock down in any case.
However, the government should most certainly allow services and repairs to be done on vehicles of essential workers and Emergency Services, SAPS, Eskom and so forth.
Its very easy to control as these essential workers can then produce their letters of authorization for movement which they need to carry with them in any case.
Tire fitment center’s should also only be allowed fitments on essential workers vehicles, which as mentioned earlier on is easy to control with the permit system of which a copy should be attached to every invoice during the lockdown period.
As for towing services, the same rule applies and when no travel permit or a valid reason to be on the road such as a trip to buying food they should impound the vehicle.
As for the rest, unfortunately lock down is essential and the purpose thereof should not be jeopardized, not even by the motor trade.
It has become very clear to me that for some reason many cannot or simply do not want to grasp the severity of the pandemic we face.
Too many people still think its a joke and will only catch a wakeup for a brief moment when they suffer the consequences.
Sadly so it is one thing to face hardship but quite something else when the death of a loved one or that of yourself faces you.

End of comments.

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