My view on the alcohol ban - be rational that is all we ask!
Written by Allister Kreft (Small-scale wine farmer and CEO of a South African wine distributor and education company, operating on the African continent).
Chapter 2 of the Constitution contains several provisions of relevance to employment and labour law and one of these is the right to pursue a livelihood. A right that has been taken away for many in the liquor and hospitality industries, and their supportive industries.
In addition the State has its constitutionally mandated duties to preserve life and provide adequate health care to South Africans. During the first and second Covid-19 waves in South Africa, the State was under a duty to adopt measures to ensure that the already fragile healthcare system was not overwhelmed even further.
So we agree that according to the constitution we have a right to pursue a livelihood. In addition we have a right to receive adequate healthcare and the state has mandated duties to preserve life. That’s a rational mindset. A first principle to move from. A balancing act between life and livelihoods. The question then is whether the state has taken rational steps to protect the rights of workers, while preserving life, thereby preserving all of our rights as South Africans in a balanced way as we fight a global pandemic.
My view is that they have not. They have adopted an irrational approach to evaluating data and used a blunt instrument to preserve life, which is infringing on the rights of hundreds of thousands of workers, and their families, in the hospitality, liquor and related industries.
The state has taken a view that alcohol consumption is the direct cause of a lack of capacity of hospital beds in the first and second waves of Covid-19. This unfortunately is too simplistic an evaluation. One of the tools that the state would have used to make its decision is regression analysis. In statistical modelling, regression analysis is a set of statistical processes for estimating the relationships between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables. In this case, they would have asked which variables are responsible for an increase in available beds in hospitals to accommodate a Covid-19 surge. One of the flags when using this statistical decision making tool, is a situation where two explanatory variables are highly correlated. This can make it difficult for the model to predict what the relationships between the variables are. In this case it is easy to use the example of alcohol bans AND a reduction in mobility of people through curfews as predictors of hospital bed reductions. The problem is, which of those two variables is the major influencer on reduction in hospital beds? Is it access to alcohol or the ability to move freely, at all times? Or a combination of both? Or are there additional factors, like adequate policing, at play? Unfortunately in South Africa we can’t easily tell, mainly because curfews and alcohol bans have been implemented at the same time. In other words - they have been linearly implemented. Multicollinearity is at play.
Globally, trauma cases have reduced significantly because of reduced population mobility. Alcohol bans haven’t been implemented in general (very rarely in fact), although other more nuanced approaches have been. Rationally the state needs to take this into consideration and adopt a balanced approach to preserving lives along with its citizens right to earn a living. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods are at stake in the liquor distribution, liquor production, farming and hospitality industries. Not to mention all of their supporting industries. Every single year many of these industries pay the State license fees to operate and these are “utilised (sic) to fund the costs of regulating the liquor industry in order to reduce alcohol related harms.” As an industry it is hard not to feel scapegoated by a state that shares in the responsibility of implementing action programs to reduce alcohol related harms.
It is clear that a one size fits all approach is not reasonable and rational, and doesn’t balance our constitutional rights. As an industry we fully support seeking a rational balance between lives and livelihoods. We would happily continue to contribute beyond our mandated license fees to education and responsible consumption programs (as many of us already do - our company for instance trains thousands of consumers and waiters every year).
The onus is not just on the industry but also on the state, to behave rationally and institute regulations to contain alcohol related trauma admissions. These could include instituting zero allowable blood alcohol concentration levels for drivers (and actually policing that), limited sales hours, limiting alcohol advertising only to points of sale and banning the sale of alcohol linked to heavy drinking such as 750ml and one-litre beers, or cheap spirits and boxed wine.
Blanket bans serve to destroy our right to pursue a livelihood. Destroyed livelihoods and tax bases reduce the states ability to finance healthcare. Destroyed livelihoods push capital and investment elsewhere. Destroyed livelihoods increase poverty. Rapid rises in poverty also place an additional burden on the healthcare system. Balance our constitutional rights, be rational in your temporary limitations thereof, don’t completely squash one in favour of the other. Be rational, that’s all we ask.
In the meantime here is our love letter to South African wine. They are just one special incredible part of our drinks and hospitality industries, who are fighting to survive.