Joanna Sterkowicz chats to Paul Fox, president of the EOHCB (Employers’ Organisation for Hairdressing, Cosmetology and Beauty), about the state of the industry and navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the biggest challenges facing South Africa’s beauty and hair sectors?
Businesses operating within the hairdressing, cosmetology, skincare and beauty industry face challenges related to the education and quality of the current and future workforce, as well as improving and maintaining standards of operations. Another big issue is providing quality and safe products to the public, as the testing project by the University of Cape Town through the Health and Safety Committee of the National Bargaining Council for the Hairdressing, Cosmetology, Skincare and Beauty Industry has come to a halt due to many unforeseeable reasons. Other challenges are slow economic growth and sustainability of the growth (if any); the changes in consumer behaviour and adapting business and service models accordingly as the spending habits of both the consumer and the business operator have changed to that of priorities first before any other, such as luxury. Then there is the fragmentation of business and relationships, where previous approaches to business and associated relations are no longer viable and the attitude of adapt or die has taken centre stage for survival and innovation, with the need for change being imminent.
In my opinion, there are many positives that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic which have alleviated some of the pre-existing challenges faced by the industry. These include, but are not limited to, the fact that training has become more accessible and frequent through online platforms, and businesses have been able to provide retail sales via online stores. The EOHCB is able to engage more frequently with stakeholders and industry peers about matters of mutual interest through sharing experiences and/ or ideas in order to navigate the challenges faced and through such engagements, many positive opportunities presented themselves. I would assume that many salon/ spa owners like myself within the industry have shifted their focus to reassess how to reach their goals in terms of service delivery and how to effectively run a business that is more financially and emotionally viable and adaptable to pressing needs such as, for example, renegotiating more beneficial and/ or cost-effective accommodating lease agreements.
Since the pandemic, have some EOHCB member salons shut their doors permanently?
Yes, but many new salons have opened doors and applied for membership to the EOHCB.
I know that some beauty employees who lost their jobs because of lockdown have subsequently opened their own home salons. Is the same true of some hair professionals?
Yes, and there are challenges I foresee as many of those who are operating from home or offering mobile services are not holders of qualifications. This poses an additional risk to the consumer and so these people compromise the operating standards of the industry. Consequently, the required skill sets of the industry are going to decrease as these people focus solely on turnover and do not consider achieving balance in continual personal development, which is important to any qualified and professional individual within the industry. It is unclear whether the industry could deem this type of business operation to be one of a professional standard due to the nature and conduct within the operating environment. Another concerning question is whether this type of business is paying its dues and contributing to the fiscus of the country like those who are operating formal and professional businesses within the industry.
Why do you think some salons are resistant to join the EOHCB? Is it perhaps to do with membership fees?
The membership subscription fee to the EOHCB is definitely not a reason for resistance. Compared to other Employers’ Organisations within South Africa and labour consultancy fees, membership to the EOHCB is affordable, reasonable and definitely value for money considering the variety of services available to members. Membership to the EOHCB is completely voluntary, unlike registration with the National Bargaining Council for Hairdressing, Cosmetology, Skincare and Beauty Industry, which is mandatory by law.
We have found that the industry confuses the National Bargaining Council and the EOHCB. These are two independent entities, even though the EOHCB is the employer representative of the council as a voluntary mutual interest. Reluctance from salon owners to become members of the EOHCB stems from misconceptions as outlined above and the compliance issue enforceable by the council. Many also choose to operate under the radar which the EOHCB and its members condemns. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and as professional business owners, we should contribute positively and proactively to the standardisation and integrity of our industry.
Many establishment owners and employees within the industry are reluctant to adhere to compliance. Not only compliance as per the main collective agreement of the National Bargaining Council, but other compliance requirements associated with operations of businesses and establishing employment relationships, which have legal and costly consequences. We saw this during the COVID-19 TERS applications and also with Workman’s Compensation claims due to Occupational Injuries, as examples. It is evident that not only EOHCB members, but their workers who are compliant, benefited from relief provided by Government and the Council.
The EOHCB is a constituted and registered Employers’ Organisation as per the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995. It is a non-profit organisation, which promotes the interest of its members by protecting and supporting the needs of employers and legal owners through collective bargaining, labour relations support and quality industry education and training development and regulation.
We are the only Employers’ Organisation within South Africa who is a party to the National Bargaining Council and who engages in collective bargaining on behalf of its members (i.e. the employers and legal owners of the industry). Both organisations continuously strive to provide its members with a full range of services and benefits and endeavour to address the needs of its members with integrity, professionalism and sound business practice.
South Africa is in a unique position as it has both a formal beauty & hair sector and an informal beauty & hair sector. How does this dynamic impact on the industry as a whole?
I am of the view that South Africa is not in a unique position. This differentiation is seen in many other countries. Engagement with informal representatives and business owners with regards to development into formal businesses is a natural progression in developing economies. This dynamic presents opportunities to become more creative and to find new employment practices. The impact drives the professional establishment to uphold and improve industry and professional standards, to follow and enforce required standard operating protocols and by doing so, creates an opportunity for the exposed informal business operator to become formal and to set the example for the next. One chooses to either conduct business for subsistence, or to also create employment and contribute to the growth and future of the industry and the economy.
How has the EOHCB assisted in keeping members informed during the COVID era?
To date, the EOHCB still attends to the reality of COVID-19 in the workplace and the impact it has had on the employer and employee relationship. During the initial hard lockdown, the EOHCB daily attended to: UIF TERS submission and claim queries; the obtaining of permits to provide retail sales; guidance with force majeure letters addressed to landlords who demanded rental payments; implementation of short-time and temporary lay-offs; retrenchments; COVID-19 symptom screenings; and the uncertainty and frustration of our members and the industry. Not only did the EOHCB compile and present to its members and the industry a COVID-19 return to work toolkit, a COVID-19 health and safety video, and webinar consulting about the Personal Care Sector-Specific protocols, but entered into a collective agreement with UASA The Union to establish industry standard operations procedures in-line with the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety regulations. During the 86 days of industry forced closure, the EOHCB communicated in writing to its members and the industry at least every second day on our various electronic platforms. This is excluding the numerous daily updates and engagements via telephone, email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and our website. In addition we lobbied Government to reopen our industry sooner than the expected initial adjusted level one of the Disaster Management Act and were successful in doing so and keeping the industry open and operational.
How much is your Facebook page, with its continual updates, utilised by members and non-members?
We currently have a total following of 10,989 Facebook users. It is impossible to differentiate and classify our audience into members, non-members, legal owners, employees etc. Since the hard lockdown to date, a single post has reached 153,000 Facebook users, a total of 4,515 likes, and 1,025 comments.
Professional Beauty has received emails in the past from a few beauty salon owners, who were not EOHCB members, complaining that EOHCB representatives had come into their salons and were almost bullying them to join. Please respond.
As stated earlier, the industry sometimes confuses the National Bargaining Council with the EOHCB. These complaints of bullying must have been a referral to council representatives as the EOHCB is in the business to solve problems, not to create them. Bullying an employer into membership to the EOHCB is in contravention of the organisation’s constitution and against its code of conduct. Membership to the EOHCB is a freedom of association, therefore no-one can be bullied into taking up membership, while registration to the National Bargaining Council is compulsory. Agents from the council must enforce the main collective agreement and should an employer or employee not conform to such lawful requirement, the council will initiate a compliance process which sometimes is regarded as bullying by the industry. A designated council agent may enter the workplace at any time and does so lawfully without prior permission from the business owner.
An operational staff member of the EOHCB will always make an appointment and inform the business owner about the reason for an appointment request, and it is the decision of the business owner to grant such a request or not.
Are you at liberty to reveal how many members the EOHCB currently has in both hair and beauty?
No, but I can advise that 73% of registered establishments with the council who are members of the EOHCB and compliant were able to benefit from governmental relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Which of the EOHCB services are most requested?
Labour relations support, education related queries, compliance in terms of the main collective agreement and industry standards, hosting of EOHCB competitions and most recently, the activation of the POPI (Protection of Personal Information) Act as of 1 July 2021 and compliance thereof. Continuous support for COVID-19 compliance is given to members as the Personal Care Sector-Specific Protocols remain in place.
What big projects is the EOHCB currently working on?
The digitalisation of the organisation and the services it offers; standardising employment conditions nationally through the collective bargaining process; being pre-emptive towards the National Health Insurance and National Pension Fund of South Africa and the effects thereof on the existing social benefits and the employment relationship; compliance in terms of the POPI Act and The Promotion of Access to Information Act and all expected legislation changes affecting the employment relationship (such as amendments to the Employment Equity Act and the activation of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act); and the concept and developments around A-Typical employers and employees in accordance with the International Labour Organisation, thus redefining employment and related practices.
We are also working hand-in-hand with the National Bargaining Council to uplift the service levels of the council and also to conclude agreement(s) with the industry Trade Union concerning COVID-19 vaccinations.