Last minute intervention by industry body pays dividends

Talk, type, haggle, nag, skype, zoom, whatsapp, talk some more. Repeat x 1000 long into the lockdown night.

That’s the story behind the 50% return to work for the boatbuilding sector under Lockdown level four – the product of an eleventh-hour effort to prise open the sector beyond the initial 20% proposal.

A joint submission from SABBEX and oceansports NGO BlueCape, representing the broad spectrum of local marine manufacturing firms and recreational groups, secured the all-important thumbs-up from the government. As a result boatbuilding yards and suppliers are back on track after five weeks of teeth gnashing and twiddling of thumbs.

“We must give a huge thanks to our partners in the boatbuilding and marine manufacturing sector, Invest Cape Town, WESGRO, the Department of Trade Industry and Competition, the Department of Transport for their support and guidance,” said SABBEX chairman and BlueCape co-founder Bruce Tedder, who also praised the behind-the-scenes contribution from the SABBEX team of Vanessa Davidson and Thina Qutywa. “They put in a massive effort in difficult times and presented an accurate and detailed overview of the sector in a very short timespan,” Tedder said. “This highlighted the critical importance and economic and job saving benefits that an accelerated timeline for the return to some form of production activity would achieve. Good sense prevailed and we thank all government departments for allowing this 50% return to work at Level 4.”

Government’s decision was based largely on the speedy finalisation of sector Risk Adjusted Measures, compiled by SABBEX following engagement with sector stakeholders. These measures were a key component of the industry body’s submission, as they set the framework for workplace safety. They range from providing hand sanitizer and wash basins to thermal imaging, as well as floor markings to define the 1.5m safe working distance protocol.  The document also highlighted the boatbuilding sector’s contribution to employment and export earnings. “The Boatbuilding Sector and associated supply chain are a significant contributor to the export health of South Africa,” the document says. “Contributing R2.2bn per annum with 95% of all product exported, this sector is an important foreign currency contributor and employer in the country.”

“There are 22 large recreational boat builders and 6 commercial boat builders as well as small boat builders in South Africa employing 3 700 people. The largest boat builder is Robertson and Caine with 1 800 employees and six production sites in the Western Cape. This business supports 287 local SMMEs and these companies are estimated to support a further 7 000 employees,” the document says.

Davidson commended government for their success in balancing the twin imperatives of flattening the coronavirus infection curve and resuscitating the local economy: “Government does not have an easy task at the moment but as a sector we are immensely grateful for the opportunity to return to work with 50% of staff,” Davidson said. “This return to work will be under strict health and safety risk mitigation measures to ensure that despite opening up our factories, we do not contribute to any further spread of the Covid 19 virus. This opportunity to return to half of production will ensure we don’t lag behind our main global competitors France and I am certain it will mean the survival of a number of SMMEs in the supply chain around boat building who might otherwise not have weathered the storm of continued lockdown,” she said.

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