Guidelines on staffing matters during COVID-19

30 April 2020 | Dr Reno Morar, COO

Please note that an incorrect version of this communidation was released at 15:56. CMD sincerely apologises for the error. Please see the correct version below:

Dear colleagues

I am writing to inform you of the guidelines that have been developed with regard to specific staffing-related matters at the University of Cape Town (UCT) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want to thank each of you for the role that you have played during these extraordinary times in keeping UCT operational during lockdown. This has not been an easy time for any of us, yet most UCT services remain available online, thanks to your hard work from home. Colleagues who are working remotely are often available for longer periods than the normal office hours – and many continue to work while also looking after loved ones. The executive is acutely aware of your efforts and we thank you. The university will continue to work remotely during stage four. The university will advise in future if and when this position changes.

It is very important that you also look after yourself during this time. Keeping a healthy balance between work responsibilities and personal well-being can be difficult during lockdown. So please look after your needs, as well as those of your family, with as much care as you are giving to UCT work. Please take the opportunity to read the references below, which may be of help to us all during this time:

Guidelines on staffing matters

We have developed guidelines that have been informed by the government’s strategy on social distancing, UCT’s vision for 2030, institutional strategies for financial and social sustainability, and labour relations prescripts. UCT’s goal is to continue to be an employer of choice.

The guidelines offer a high-level approach to various staffing-related matters. The scale and complexity of UCT’s operations and detail relating to specific scenarios may require further nuancing by the Human Resources (HR) department. Where this is required, or if you need clarity on a specific issue about staffing recruitment, selection and contracts, please email the Director: HR Client Services, Mr Zaheer Ally, or phone him on 021 650 4226.

A number of queries have arisen in respect of the research enterprise. The UCT executive and researchers are continuing their joint efforts via the COVID-19 Research Task Team, led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sue Harrison, to ensure the stability and continuity of the research enterprise.

In dealing with staffing matters during the lockdown period, we have identified four broad categories of work segmentation to ensure operational continuity:

  • jobs that can be fully performed on a remote working basis;
  • jobs that can be performed partially on a remote basis;
  • jobs that form part of an essential service and are performed in accordance with a lean staffing model on a rotational basis; and
  • jobs that cannot be performed remotely.

These four categories help to provide a conceptual framework for handling staffing-related matters.

We have drafted HR guidelines to assist on staffing matters and are providing them as a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). The FAQs address the following areas:

UCT contracts of employment: UCT contracts of employment cater for different operational requirements and are associated with specific terms and conditions of employment. These include the following types of contracts:

  • permanent/open-ended;
  • fixed-term medium-term duration (T2: greater than two years up to and equal to five years);
  • fixed-term short-term (T1: from less than one month up to and equal to two years) duration; or
  • those made on an ad-hoc or paid-on-claim basis.

The detail of contracts may vary, so it is important to honour the provisions of the legal contract during these challenging times, while also aligning with UCT’s strategic approach of treating our staff in a fair and equitable manner.

Staff recruitment/selection and the extension of fixed-term contracts: In broad terms, it is advisable, where possible, to pause recruitment processes and/or offers of employment where the commencement dates fall within the current year, if the work cannot be performed remotely during this period. In addition to these considerations, line managers will need to assess the operational requirements of the department, whether staff need to be relocated during this period or whether it would be possible for the work to be performed remotely prior to the staff member being relocated to Cape Town. We recognise that there may be specific considerations which apply to individual  recruitment and selection processes. Faculties and PASS departments are encouraged to engage with HR Client Services to assist them in working through their specific scenarios, to ensure that all relevant factors are duly considered to reach the best possible decision during these unusual circumstances. This approach would also apply to decisions regarding the extension of fixed-term contracts.

Management of deliverables during this period: Where staff are not able to perform their assigned roles as a result of the lockdown, they may be duly engaged in other UCT responsibilities. This may include work that does not fall within the scope of their job descriptions and that falls within the broad level of the staff member’s work, competency and capability. Such a situation offers an opportunity for a staff member to develop new skills while contributing to the sustainability of UCT’s operations. As a result of situations that staff members find themselves in, where it is impossible to perform work remotely, and the contract does not require payment of the staff member, in order to assist the staff member in accessing support, HR will provide guidance on the various interventions that have been made available by the government. One of the specific benefits provided by government for staff in these difficult circumstances is under the COVID-19 Temporary Employee-Employer Relief Scheme (TERS).

To assist staff in the understanding of the above, we encourage you all to read:

For issues related to TERS and UIF claims, email Margie Tainton or telephone 021 650 3028 or 084 582 6461.

In respect of the many enquiries received about staff returning back to work, UCT will take its lead from the directives as issued by Government. We are awaiting the ministerial announcement in respect of this. UCT will at all times ensure that we consider the health and safety of our staff and students when there is to be a phased return to work. We are working on a deliberate strategy that will ensure a secure and safe return to work for staff, taking into account all the special considerations which are required in the context of the pandemic, as it applies to the national, provincial and Cape Town Metropolitan alert levels.

Thank you once again for responding to lockdown with such extraordinary teamwork and resilience.


Dr Reno Morar
Chief Operating Officer

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