The work commute: Should employees and employers share accountability?

Public transport is a way of life in South Africa, with 80% of the country’s citizens using minibus taxis, buses and trains to get to work every day. While minibus taxis are a critical and indisputably dominant pillar of the informal public transport system, they are also notoriously unsafe. With the threat of an accident and subsequent time off work a concern for both employer and employee – who should be responsible for the work commute?

“There are more than 10 million commuters who use public transport on a daily basis. If they are involved in a road accident and need medical attention they are likely to be taken to a public healthcare facility, as 73% of the population also doesn’t have access to private medical aid,” says Rikus Scheepers, managing director at Accisure. “There they get less individual care than they would at a private hospital and this impacts their recovery time.”

Extended periods of leave for the injured worker – and any associated medical costs – can significantly affect their household income. In addition, businesses feel the impact through absenteeism, lost productivity, lower morale and fatigued staff who are taking on extra work. It’s in the best interest of both employer and employee that injured workers receive the best medical care possible, to reduce time away from work.

With the peace of mind that private healthcare affords, it is possible to reduce absenteeism, however, private healthcare seems unattainable for most South Africans, especially as they have less disposable income every month. In May this year, the average take-home pay for South Africans fell dramatically. According to the BankservAfrica Take-Home Pay Index it was one of the biggest annual falls on record. Combined with rocketing inflation rates, ongoing load shedding challenges and the increasing food and fuel prices, South Africans are feeling the financial pressure.

“While most South Africans believe they can’t afford private healthcare, it is available to commuters injured in a road accident while travelling to and from work,” says Scheepers. “Many individuals and businesses don’t realise this, highlighting the need to educate both parties on how to access these services.”

Legally an employer is not compelled to ensure the safety of their workforce during their travel to and from work, unless travel forms a key part of their job function or the employee is performing a work-related errand. However, with South Africa’s poor road safety record, road accidents are a continual threat for commuting staff and the companies who employ them.

“No one can stop an accident from happening, but an employer can be better prepared for these eventualities. By putting important measures in place such as registering and complying with the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COID), which is more commonly known as Workmen’s Compensation, you can guarantee private medical care to your workers injured in a road accident while commuting. As a business that cares you will also be ensuring that your workers get the assistance they deserve, when they need it most,” says Scheepers.