Webinar 23 October: Transnet COVID-19 Strategic Response Framework | EAPA-SA

Participants of the EduWeb webinar held on Friday 23rd October, were very privileged to hear from Dr Marion Borcherds, Transnet’s Group Employee Wellness and Transformation Manager, who has been uniquely positioned within a large State Owned Enterprise (SOE), taking an active role, first in Transnet’s forward-thinking COVID-19 War Room and then within their Pandemic Command Centre and programme team.  Dr Borcherds brought us a valuable case study with information-packed slides showing practical insights on the response frame-work used to guide Transnet’s COVID-19 strategy – right from the early onset of COVID-19 pandemic.


“Transnet is a large SOE that places a very high premium on employee health and wellness. Going into COVID-19, like never before, I got to keenly appreciate the size of this SOE and its impact on the South African economy,”  said Dr Borcherds.

“…like never before, I got to keenly appreciate the size of this SOE and its impact on the South African economy.” Dr Marion Borcherds, EAPA-SA Sponsorship Portfolio Holder

An example of best practice – Transnet’s visionary pandemic response framework


Creating a pocket of excellence, Transnet has been impressive in the manner in which the organisation jumped into action very quickly, readying themselves to face lockdown in support of their employees.  A COVID-19 task team was established by the end of January 2020 and a “war room” was established, manned by people from different disciplines within the organisation, focused on communication, education and risk assessment. This early start cannot be overstated in terms of its importance. By the time President Ramaphosa declared a State of Disaster, Transnet had already taken a fair amount of action and mobilised its fully-fledged command centre. 


Transnet’s action plan was divided into three phases:  

  1. Immediate impact horizon:  This “brace period” covered taking stock and instituting a decision-making loop, pioneered to make quick decisions in light of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – with Transnet’s people-wealth in mind.
  2. Tactical horizon:  In this phase, critical actions pertaining to employee matters were identified and put into play to best ensure prevention, containment and employee recovery from the impacts of the coronavirus. 
  3. Strategic horizon: Going forward, phase three has a focus on people and transitioning staff toward the new normal, with the overarching outlook that “healthy people equal a healthy business”.    

Click here to order a rebroadcast of this valuable EduWeb webinar, that lays out Transnet’s real-life, strategic COVID-19 action plan.

Interactive Q&A session


An interactive Q&A session after the presentation opened up further discussion and gave attendees the opportunity to air any questions Dr Borcherds’ presentation had sparked for them.  EAPA-SA President, Thiloshni Govender asked Dr Borcherds what the impact of COVID-19 had been on labour relations at Transnet – if there had been any labour disruptions/closures and how the team had managed these.

Dr Borcherds confirmed that there was definitely an impact on Labour Relations at Transnet, relaying that one of the big things Transnet did early on was form a specific structure to deal with COVID-19 matters. This structure, made up of the Head of People Management, Dr Borcherds and the General Manager for Employee Relations.  “We did have disruptions,” Dr Borcherds said. “We had worksite closures in the Western Cape.  It was early days when we were so green – everyone, the whole country was green – so, maybe we did not handle communication as well as we should have. Once we had dealt with these disruptions and the hotspot was moving across the country we were able to better deal with any labour relations matters.”

Ronald Abvajee from Healthy Living Consulting asked, “With some research and articles speaking of pandemic fatigue, what is your strategy to support and maintain the behaviour change among employees and communities?”

“It is a difficult question”, Dr Borcherds replied. “All we can really do is to continue communicating and educating. Messaging is critical and it is important to utilise different platforms – no one sees the posters anymore. We are going to have to ramp it up. One of the new things we are going to have to talk about is the aftermath of COVID-19.”

EAPA-SA Board member Radhi Vandayar commented, “It starts with awareness. When you talk about messaging it is about specific messaging for specific people. Any change management will tell you that what is important for employees is ‘What is in it for me?’ So, when we are creating awareness it’s not about a general poster. The crux is answering questions for every single person. One would communicate the same message differently; say using the Transnet example, to communicate with someone differently that is in the freight division versus someone at a port terminal. This is what we need to get as EAP practitioners.

Dr Borcherds rounded off the discussion by saying, “From a positive psychology perspective we push compliance. But, the research is clear it is definitely not about getting employees to comply using a carrot and a stick.  You are right, Radhi, in terms of change management it is very much about ‘What’s in it for me?’ We can’t say, ‘If you don’t do this we are going to discipline you.’ We need to turn things around, from a stick approach to a carrot approach”. 

You don’t have to miss out on this valuable case study and proof of concept. Order a rebroadcast of this webinar here, along with its information-rich slides that details Transnet’s far-sighted COVID-19 response framework.