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Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - 10:43
Field work

“South African society could never function without its farming community, the ‘breadbasket’ of the nation. It is consequently of the utmost importance that the health and wellbeing of those who make the land productive – the farmers and their workers – be protected.”

So says Dr Jacqui Joubert, managing director, Integrated Risk Management for Zurreal4employers. This firm is an integrated health, wellbeing, financial services and rewards solution. It recently announced the introduction of a new comprehensive health, wellness and financial services solution for the agricultural sector.
“South Africa loses approximately R55,2 billion to sick leave every year,” she points out. “As with any industry, problems such as ill health are also a major problem within the agricultural sector, where they are having a devastating impact on productivity.”
She points out that, as with most other industries, there are also large numbers of unhealthy and stressed workers within the agriculture industry. “They are costing millions of hours in downtime and lost productivity. The consequences of this for the sector are simply incalculable.”
One of the problems is that many farms in South Africa are isolated and do not have easy access to healthcare programmes and services. One result of this is that there are high rates of illness and chronic disease among farmworkers. “For example it is estimated that some 28.5% of agricultural workers are infected with HIV. Of course, when a disease like this is not monitored and left untreated, it can progress to full-blown Aids. Those suffering from the disease who do not receive treatment can develop opportunistic infections that may well have a negative impact on the individual’s health and that of his or her family, often resulting in unnecessary death.”
She notes that chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, heart problems and various types of cancer are on the rise in South Africa, and these also result in increased worker absenteeism, a drop in productivity and the need for treatment, which may not always be easily accessible or affordable. A Statistics SA report published in 2013 noted that non-communicable diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and heart disease are now among the leading causes of mortality, accounting for 40% of all deaths.
Adding to this, Joubert notes that employers in the agricultural sector may not necessarily consider the impact that financial and other social problems may be having on the productivity of employees. “Financial difficulties can place enormous stress on any individual, the family and the relationship between employer and employee. The result can be deterioration in labour relations, absenteeism and termination of employment. Some individuals turn to drink or drugs to cope with their problems. Indeed, alcohol and/or drug abuse is common among large numbers of farm employees in South Africa. We have seen a great need in this country’s agricultural sector for a programme that can assist employers to prevent or at least greatly minimise some issues that compromise employee wellbeing.”
Joubert asserts that health and wellness must essentially become part of a long-term strategy aimed at building relationships with employees, reducing absenteeism and improving productivity. A typical health and wellness service offering should therefore include: medical scheme cover, health screening, counselling and the introduction of healthy eating programmes among others.
“Research has shown that a healthy worker who feels that his/her best interests are taken care of has higher morale and is generally more efficient. Implementing a programme such as this is therefore a win-win situation for everyone.”
She says that Zurreal4employers proactively identifies risks so that these can be timeously and effectively managed and substantially reduced. An emphasis is also placed on educational interventions that assist to empower employees and prevent problems before they arise.
“The programme has been designed in a modular manner so that it can be made to fit the precise requirements of any type of agricultural operation from the small farm to the giant agribusiness. It may also be plugged into any existing programme. The service caters to the specific needs of the entire workforce regardless of the nature of their employment from top management to unskilled, and even seasonal workers.“
Zurreal4employers offers all-encompassing healthcare, which includes cover from two well-known medical schemes and a Zurreal StaffCare solution that provides lower income employees with access to private healthcare. The Zurreal Healthcard, which is not linked to any medical scheme, provides healthcare funding for seasonal workers as well as additional cover for senior workers. Disease management, absenteeism management and employee assistance programmes, as well as a personal support and psychosocial support line are also available. Funeral benefits, disability cover and income protection products could furthermore be offered as part the programme.
“Zurreal4employers’ programmes improve production, efficiency and the bottom line of the agricultural business. We want employers to be able to worry less about their workforce so that they can get back to what they do best, which is to farm.”

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:28.6 1st June, 2015
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