Despite ongoing uncertainty and business interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kimberley’s largest private employer, Beefmaster Group, is going above and beyond to safeguard its employees now and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

12 August 2020: Beefmaster Group, which employs 664 people at its meat processing facility in Kimberley , has already invested in excess of  R2 million in the wellbeing of all its employees since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a monthly average of approximately R600 000. The Group is likely to spend a total of R6 million  by the end of 2020 on COVID-19 related matters and other wellbeing initiatives. The Group employs in excess of 1000 people across all its facilities, nationwide.

The additional investment includes monthly supplements and vitamin C to boost the immunity of workers, as well as flu injections for all staff over the age of 60 years. The company has now decided to make the issuing of supplements a permanent arrangement that is likely to extend beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment also includes special employee transport arrangements, such as Beefmaster Group paying for taxi seats to be kept open, in an effort to guarantee that employees are transported to and from work with social distancing in mind. 

According to Gert Blignaut, Beefmaster Group Chief Operating Officer (COO), despite the business having been financially and operationally impacted by the pandemic, it has chosen to invest in staff wellbeing during this difficult period, rather than spending the bulk of the funds on indirect pandemic-related initiatives that fall outside of the organisation.

“We want to see our employees and their families healthy. We hope that by looking after our employees in this manner, we can play a leading role in mitigating the risks of COVID-19 and other illnesses in the wider Kimberley community,” says Gert Blignaut, Beefmaster Group Chief Operating Officer (COO). “If we have a healthy community, we can keep more people employed, and thereby make a lasting and sustainable contribution to the economic growth of our area.”

Blignaut says that the company remains committed to its employee complement in Kimberley. It is estimated that at least 2600 people are dependent on the income provided by the 664 jobs at the Beefmaster Kimberley facility. 

“We remain committed in our efforts to minimise the financial impact of COVID-19 on employees. Although we have been fortunate to be classed as an essential service during the pandemic and have not had to shut our doors, our sales volumes and throughput at the factory has been much lower due to factors outside of our control. Despite significant challenges, we have not contemplated business restructuring based on operational requirements, nor have we  instated pay cuts,” says Blignaut. The Group has also opted to keep  bonus incentive schemes in place, and not retract any job perks.  

Factors that impacted the Group’s overall performance during this time include plummeting beef prices due to depressed consumer demand, a declining spend base and the already limited trade from restaurants who have been impacted by lockdown restrictions, amongst others. Since the start of the lockdown, the beef price has plummeted significantly, is struggling to regain and is still well below pre-lockdown levels.

“In fact, we are currently planning expansions, not because the business is doing well, but rather because we want to ensure the sustainability of the business and the retention  of jobs for our people beyond this pandemic. We strive to avoid inflicting hardship on our people and by extension their families and our community, to get through the pandemic, which is what many other businesses seems to be forced into,” says Blignaut. 

He adds that the company has paid its people more during this time due to a change in shift requirements to comply with health and safety regulations and internal initiatives to mitigate risks caused by the current situation. 

In addition to providing employees with general precautionary protective measures such as disinfectants, masks, checking daily measurements and ensuring adherence to social distancing, the business has implemented several other measures to keep its employees safe. It has also gone beyond government regulations by investing in ongoing training on the correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all staff. A clinic sister is on site and accessible to Kimberley employees, and staff medical bills are supplemented by the company. 

Blignaut commended the effort of the entire COVID-19 committee responsible for safeguarding employees, including Beefmaster Group employees in the Health and Safety (HSE) department, as well as external members of the committee, such as union representatives and shop stewards. 

“Everyone has played an integral role in ensuring we can deliver in a safe work environment,” says Blignaut. 

With a track record spanning more than three decades, the company is a highly respected industry player not only in Kimberley but also South Africa.

“We have been invested in the area for over 30 years after strategically choosing the location as the most suitable to deliver quality beef products to the rest of South Africa, and beyond,” says Louw van Reenen, Beefmaster Group CEO.