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Covid-19: Restaurant Association hands over memorandums to government

The ‘Million seats on the streets’ protest spearheaded by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa) against Covid-19 trade restrictions on Wednesday drew thousands.

Embattled restaurant and hospitality industry workers, owners and suppliers took to the streets in the hope that government will finally hear their desperate pleas for help.

Read: Restaurants set for ‘Million seats on the streets’ protest

Protests took place countrywide, including several streets in Cape Town, Parkhurst and Fourways in Johannesburg, as well as Umhlanga and Florida Road in Durban. Demonstrations even took place in smaller tourist towns such as Franschhoek, Wellington and Ballito.

Throngs of people with placards in hand brandishing the hashtag #JobsSavesLive protested with chairs and tables outside establishments. Many also broke out in song, singing the national anthem or Shosholoza as part of largely peaceful protest action.

During the protest in Parkhurst, Rasa representatives handed over two memorandums to Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, which were addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“In the memorandums, we are calling on government to ease Covid-19 trade restrictions for the restaurant and hospitality industry, especially around serving alcohol and the 9pm curfew,” Rasa CEO, Wendy Alberts, told Moneyweb.

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“Our other appeals include allowing for 70% seating capacity in sit-down restaurants; a rebate for liquor licence fees due to alcohol sales being banned; addressing delays around payment of the UIF Ters benefit for workers; the issue of insurers not paying out pandemic-related business interruption claims; to allow for inter-provincial travel; and, further financial support for distressed businesses in the sector,” she said.

Alberts hailed the nationwide peaceful protest as a success, saying she was gratified to see how many establishments took part and the fact that Kubayi-Ngubane had agreed to accept the memorandums on behalf of government.

“We have had no feedback whatsoever from Cogta, hence our appeal to the President to engaged with the industry to understand the devastating impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions,” she said.

“Over 800 000 direct jobs are at risk … With the industry effectively operating at around 20% capacity, many jobs are likely to have already been lost while many restaurants are still seeing massive losses,” she added.

Read:

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Alberts noted that the Tourism Minister “has been sensitive” to the devastation in the industry. She said Kubayi-Ngubane had taken many of the industry’s concerns to the National Covid-19 Command Council (NCCC), however, the NCCC did not seem to understand how dire the situation had become.

“We need the President to understand our plight and the plight of hundreds of thousands of workers in the restaurant and broader hospitality industry. There is also the ripple impact on related sectors, such as food producers and other suppliers,” she stressed.

“Covid-19 is going to be with us for a while, and the industry can’t continue to operate under such restrictions. It is just not sustainable. We believe that if alcohol is allowed to be served with meals, but still under certain limits and rules, business will be better. We also have the health and safety protocols in place around Covid-19,” she said.

Besides the industry protests nationwide, the bosses of several major restaurant groups have become more vocal about the crisis in the sector.

They include the likes of Grace Harding, co-founder of Ocean Basket and spokesperson for lobby group The Restaurant Collective; and, Brett Michielin, co-founder of the Mozambik restaurant chain. Both have written open letters to President Ramaphosa on the issue.

The Restaurant Collective has 34 members, representing over 500 sit-down establishments across the country. Besides Ocean Basket, well-known brands that are part of the lobby group include tashas, News Café, Doppio Zero, Signature Restaurants, Mythos, Tiger’s Milk, Turn n’ Tender, Col’Cacchio, Old Town Italy, Life Grand Café, Sakhumzi and Fournos, amongst others.

Read: Dining industry still in ICU

In her letter to Ramaphosa, Harding offered a “blueprint” for the sector’s recovery. “But we need the ear and the support of the relevant government departments [including the Departments of Small Business Development and Tourism] to make this a reality,” she warned.

“Of the estimated 15 000 sit-down restaurants in South Africa, only 1 500 are part of a franchise group; the majority are entrepreneurs navigating this devastating crisis alone,” she said.

“Based on ruinous revenue losses related to government-ordered closures, economic realities, and projections, the sit-down restaurant industry’s survival is dependent on a targeted collaborative response. An unprecedented crisis of this scale requires that we work together,” Harding stressed.

Her recommendations for “immediate support” include:

  • Speed up and resolve the delays in UIF and Ters payouts, as “thousands of employees are not yet back at work as restaurant owners cannot afford full staff complements”
  • Allow restricted alcohol sales for licensed sit-down restaurants
  • Amend the current curfew time to 22h00
  • Reduce Vat by 5% – until June 2021
  • Introduce tax incentives for SMMEs that are able to grow employment
  • Work with banks to reduce credit card and cash deposit fees for one year
  • Reduce rates and utilities costs charged by landlords by 50% for one year
  • Impose on utility providers not to demand payments while restaurants were/are unable to trade
  • Continue PAYE deferments and provide an incentives claim system to aid the long-term ability of entrepreneurs to employ people without shouldering tax burdens;
  • Collaborate with key financial institutions to tailor products to those industries hardest hit by Covid-19; and,
  • Create qualifying criteria for these relief benefits and develop online applications where an automated scorecard can assist with the allocation of funds.
  • The restaurant industry protest in Wellington in the Western Cape. Image: Supplied

    The restaurant industry protest in Wellington in the Western Cape. Image: Supplied

  • The restaurant industry protest in Umhlanga, Durban.
Image: Supplied

    The restaurant industry protest in Umhlanga, Durban.
    Image: Supplied

  • Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff and supporters of The Local Grill picket in Parktown North, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff and supporters of The Local Grill picket in Parktown North, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff and supporters of The Local Grill picket in Parktown North, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff and supporters of The Local Grill picket in Parktown North, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff picket along Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

  • Restaurant staff and supporters picket in Parkhurst, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

    Restaurant staff and supporters picket in Parkhurst, 22 July 2020, as owners are calling for some of the lockdown regulations to be eased as their businesses are taking financial strain. Restaurants are calling for the lifting of the curfew and allowing their businesses to sell alcohol. Picture: Michel Bega

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