/ 21 May 2020

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

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Respite: People queue at the department of employment and labour in Cape Town to claim money from the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme, established to assist companies affected by lockdown regulations. (Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images)

Despite the difficulties the employment and labour department has faced regarding applications for the Covid-19 relief scheme, it has disbursed more than R14-billion since April 16.

The Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme was set up for employers who had to temporarily or partially close their businesses in adherence with the lockdown.

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for relief scheme payments.

On Monday, the department said that more than 2.5-million workers have received relief payments during lockdown, either in lieu of, or a top up to their salaries. The total amount disbursed has now topped R14-billion.

This is in addition to the usual payment — such as retrenchments or maternity leave — the UIF makes, which now stand at R1.8-billion.

The highest relief scheme amount workers get is R6730 a month while the minimum amount is R3500.

But technical glitches cause frustration. People are complaining about the UIF’s new uFiling website, which has not been working properly since it was relaunched on April 1. The website went down before lockdown, in mid-February.

Other complaints were that some employees received payments but other workers in the same company did not, the incorrect amount was paid out and people were not able to contact the UIF.

The department’s media liaison, Teboho Thejane, said salaries being paid to some employees and not to others was caused when incorrect details were submitted. But the UIF picked up these kinds of mistakes, he said.

Most companies have applied for UIF and when relief scheme applications are made, the details need to be the same. If not, the system will reject the relief application.

Thejane said UIF will pay those that are correct and will contact the employers and ask them to fix the incorrect details.

He added: “Whatever the amount that UIF pays to the employer, that amount is due to the worker alone. It’s not money for the employer to dedicate. If the employer takes money from that amount they [the employees] must report.”

Thejane said that some problems arise because companies are taking matters into their own hands by paying workers by using their leave days or lending them money.

“We are saying if you are in distress, if you are scaling down … do not make your staff take annual leave. We will pay for that.”

UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said once a company has provided the necessary information and documents, the fund is now, at best, making payments 24 hours after the claim is submitted or, at worst, 48 hours after submission.

“We are quite pleased that we are now in a position to say that the systems are in place and I would like to pay tribute to the staff members who have worked right through the clock to make it possible. We are now more confident in saying that we are on track to achieve our vision of a ‘caring, accessible and customer centric UIF’ that contributes towards poverty alleviation.”

Maruping conceded that although the turnaround time has improved, this does not mean that their systems will not have difficulties. But, “when problems arise, we make sure that they do not derail us and we strive to find solutions and continuously learn and improve systems to be able to deliver for our key stakeholders — the contributors.

“Our commitment is to improve all the time and to pay back the trust that has been placed on us as a public insurance fund.”

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian