How is the spread of Coronavirus Impacting Businesses in the UAE
As Corona Virus COVID-19 continues to spread globally the reverberations are now being felt on global economies. Since the middle of last week global markets have seen a sharp fall - with US indexes down 10% and European market also falling sharply. The downturn is now also starting to affect businesses and the wider community within the GCC.
Major sporting events such as the Cycle Tour of UAE have been cancelled in the wake of 2 Italian cyclists testing positive for the virus; school sporting events have been cancelled; nurseries in Abu Dhabi are closing and travel restrictions are becoming more widespread with each day.
Facts V Fear
UAE authorities have issued a number of statements to reassure residents and businesses amid the growing concerns over public health and the potential impact on commerce; confirming on Thursday that they are taking all necessary measures, there is no need for panic and that “well-established procedures are in place”.
The Minister of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), Abdul Rahman Al Owais, announced that a new medical facility has been set up far away from residential areas in order to treat any affected people in isolation.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that companies must take proportionate measures to protect their people and business operations in response to the outbreak. In the age of social media however, news can travel rapidly and without censure making it extremely difficult for individuals and organisations to cut through the noise, maintain perspective and determine the appropriate actions to take.
The challenges that UAE companies will face are numerous and varied. Most importantly though is an organisation’s duty of care and responsibly to staff and contractors.
Businesses within UAE are at particular risk due to the high number of expat workers living in project and worker camps. These can be relatively tight with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people living together, sharing rooms and dining together daily in a buffet environment.
It is also an environment in which expat workers frequently travel to and from their home countries on leave - potentially transiting through affected areas. If the virus gets into a camp it could spread quickly, therefore it is prudent to have measures in place to address this potential risk.
- How effective are your organisation’s Health and Safety procedures?
- Are the staff responsible for Health and Safety within your organisation well-informed with up-to the-minute information from reliable sources?
- Has guidance been issued to employees who have travelled to one of the higher risk countries or been in contact with someone who has and has subsequently displayed symptoms?
- Are there heath check screenings in place for returning workers?
- Do you have quarantine procedures and facilities in place to accommodate returning expat workers when it is deemed appropriate?
- Are there proportionate measures in place to protect any medical staff within your company?
- Do you use agency labour or manpower company? Are they adhering to the same precautions as you?
- Is your company’s HR department fully supported to deal with queries and concerns from employees?
It is also important to consider the legal obligations your organisation has towards its employees. For example:
- Are you within your rights to delay an employee’s annual leave if it involves travel to a high risk destination?
One of the most challenging issues affecting business since the outbreak of the Cornonavirus has been travel. A combination of travel restrictions imposed by individual countries plus a general nervousness to travel for business purposes in light of continually changing restrictions have had a large impact on this aspect of commercial operations.
The travel and tourism sector itself has seen a slowdown as a result, with global carriers now taking measures to address this in their own organisations. Emirates for example, the UAE’s busiest airline, has implemented an HR policy offering staff unpaid voluntary leave until things improve.
Businesses could consider emulating this policy or formulating their own HR policies offering flexible working hours and the opportunity for employees to work from home. This could potentially ensure both protection for employees and the smooth continuation of business operations should further restrictions on public travel or even large gatherings be imposed by UAE authorities.
What we may find in the coming weeks or months is that perhaps the UAE will consider lifting restrictions on calls via platforms such as Whatsapp and Skype in an attempt to better facilitate communications between organisations and their employees working remotely.
- What guidance and advice have you issued to your staff regarding travel for business purposes?
- Have you implemented restrictions on routine overseas business travel for conferences or courses in this current period of uncertainty?
For international trips critical to business operations what approvals do you have in place to authorise travel for your staff?
Supply Chain Issues
Productivity in China is inevitably in decline due to quarantining of workers and blanket travel restrictions cutting off trading routes through major cities. Due to travel restrictions, factories producing goods still face the issue of transporting goods to and through ports without experiencing major delays.
With China as one of the main suppliers of goods to the UAE many businesses are finding that products are either unavailable or delayed. This decrease in supply and increase in demand is therefore forcing companies to source more expensive alternatives.
The impact is being felt not only in first tier supply goods but also component parts of products from third and fourth tier suppliers who also rely on products from China.
- Has your company estimated how long it can continue before having to resort to more expensive alternative sources for essential products?
- Are your subcontractors taking the same or similar precautions in order for you to avoid issues further down the supply chain?
- Should you consider putting in place more stringent approval processes for those products sourced from China that are essential to the smooth running of your business?
Although a challenging time globally for businesses there are proportionate measures which can and should be taken to protect staff and business operations without the need for panic. Reliable medical sources such as the World Heath Organisations are now providing daily updates on the spread of the disease.
PRO Partner Group will keep clients and contacts updated with relevant Ministry guidelines and can assist to provide guidance on best practice and provide HR Services and PRO support for Partnered Companies and their staff members.