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Covid-19 and gyms: Virgin Active staff in limbo as salaries cut by 75%

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Jul 20, 2020

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Johannesburg - Virgin Active has announced that it will cut salaries of its more than 3000 staff members by 75%, leaving fitness trainers and staffers sweating. 

The health and fitness sector is understood to have been in talks with the government to reopen the sector during level 3 of the lockdown, but was stumped when President Cyril Ramaphosa did not include them amongst sectors that would reopen last week.

Insiders told IOL that Virgin Active - one of the leading gym companies in the country - spent a small fortune preparing signage and other Covid-19 related marketing ploys to convince the government of their readiness to reopen. 

Gyms have been closed since March, when government instituted the lockdown.

A spokesperson for Virgin Active said the company had stopped collecting debit orders from members since the start of the lockdown and had received no membership revenue since March. 

“During this time we have continued to pay staff. This position is not sustainable long term, with no date for reopening agreed with government, and as such we have had to move ahead with temporary layoffs across our clubs, national head office and contact centre.

“To support our staff, they will receive at least 25% of their income despite suspended employment. A reopening of gyms will allow us to abandon these temporary layoffs, and reinstate our people to their jobs,” a spokesperson for Virgin Active said.

A Durban-based Virgin Active fitness manager told IOL last week that they were disappointed by the decision not to reopen gyms as their salaries had already been rationed during the lockdown. 

He said from May, the company instituted salary cuts and applied to the UIF for the Temporary Employment Relief Scheme, which is set to end this month. 

In June, the cuts were increased from 30% to 50% and from July, they will rise to 75%. 

“The situation is bad because we had arranged payment holidays and all of those are coming to an end at the end of the month. We have to go back to the banks and re-negotiate what we can do going forward. 

“It’s really tough because I have a daughter who goes to a private school and she can’t go back because I cannot afford to pay fees at the moment.

“So I have to tell her that she can’t go to school because of Covid-19,” he said.

The fitness fanatic said they were in limbo, and with 75% of their salary to be slashed and all payment holidays to lapse this month, he had no idea how he would be paying rent this month.

“The president’s address threw everything into disarray. Our managing director communicated in June saying we are getting clubs ready, so we were hopeful we would be going back to work.

“The MD said if we don't get the go ahead to operate from the government, they will have to lay off and at that time they were confident that it would not go there because talks with government were positive,” said the insider, who bemoaned that government had reopened other recreational activities like cinemas, casinos and theatres.  

He said their gyms had been setup as “train and leave” facilities, limited to 120 people per club, with no contact allowed between trainer and members. There was also going to be a time limit of no more than an hour enforced on all members.

Screening was also to be provided to all members entering gym facilities. 

“We thought it was a watertight plan but the government obviously does not see it that way, so we will suffer now, I have no idea how we are going to survive the next few months.

“It is also upsetting because you industries like salons, where you cannot avoid contact - but they are allowed to operate, none of this makes sense,” said the source. 

A Virgin Active spokesperson said gyms were scheduled to reopen under level 1 of the lockdown.

“Despite closure, Virgin Active has kept driving forward, innovating and investing in the online space to bring workouts to its members and members of the public anytime, anywhere.

“Gyms are currently scheduled to reopen at level 1 and could therefore remain closed for an extended period of time,” said the company.

IOL

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