/ 17 April 2020

Employers are now compelled to claim Covid-19 relief from the UIF

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In the first weeks of the lockdown, workers reported that they had been left with nothing to survive on, because their employers failed to apply for relief.

Employers must apply for Covid-19 relief on behalf of their workers who have been temporarily laid off during the nationwide lockdown.

This is according to new amendments to the Covid-19 temporary employee/employer relief scheme, which previously did not compel employers to apply for the benefit — leaving many workers in limbo and without wages during the lockdown, which last week was extended to the end of the month.

In the first weeks of the lockdown, workers reported that they had been left with nothing to survive off of as their employers failed to apply for relief.

R40-billion has been put aside by the Unemployment Insurance Fund to soften blow of the lockdown on workers and to avoid retrenchments. But during his announcement of the lockdown’s extension last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that to date it had only paid out R356-million of this.

The amendments also allow employers to draw from the UIF if they have forced workers to take annual leave during the lockdown.

Employers are now also urged to pay their workers a portion of their salary while they wait for their claims to be processed. This will be set off by the Covid-19 benefit once it has been claimed, ensuring workers have money in their pockets in the meantime.

Worker’s organisations had warned that this system left it up to employers to claim on behalf of employees, and could lead to the system not working.  

On Thursday, trade union federation Cosatu welcomed Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi’s directive to compel all employers struggling to pay their workers to apply for funding from the UIF’s Covid-19 relief fund.

“Cosatu has been pushing for this kind of firmness and leadership from the department,” the trade union federation said in a statement. 

It adds: “We appreciate the fact that the UIF was not built to manage an economic shutdown like the one we have now”. 

According to the statement, to ease the pressure on the UIF’s claims system, and to avoid it crashing, social partners agreed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council that employers would apply to the UIF for this salary relief on behalf of workers.

“Many employers have, unfortunately, not done so. Thousands more have callously opted to retrench or to place workers on unpaid leave.”

The Cosatu statement adds that the federation “expects the department and the entire government to ensure that this critical information reaches all employers as a matter of urgency”.  

“Otherwise many desperate workers will be left broke and hungry. We also want to see decisive action taken against those employers who fail to comply. The government needs to be legally audacious and tough against delinquent employers.”