/ 26 May 2020

Workers with noncompliant bosses can now access Covid-19 relief scheme

Vulnerable: Many women are seasonal workers
Workers of non-compliant employers can now claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund Covid-19 benefit. (David Harrison/M&G)

Workers of non-compliant employers can now claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Covid-19 benefit.

Changes to the Covid-19 temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters) directive now define “worker” as a UIF contributor or as “an employee … who should have received benefits” but whose employer has failed to register them or to pay contributions to the fund.

The amendment comes in the wake of a labour court application by a group of worker organisations — representing farm workers, domestic workers and precarious industrial workers — asking for this and other changes to be made to the directive that would extend the UIF benefit to workers struggling to access the fund.

R40-billion has been put aside by the fund to soften blow of the lockdown on workers and to avoid retrenchments. Last week the department of employment and labour announced that it had processed more than 200 000 valid claims on behalf of more than 2.5-million workers. According to the department, the total amount disbursed has topped R14-billion.

Now, as the lockdown eases, and businesses reopen, the UIF is preparing for changes to how claims are processed. In a statement, the department said “the UIF had to reconfigure its system to accommodate various scenarios pertaining to May applications” amid changes to the lockdown.

In the statement, the department also noted the push by social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council to ramp up efforts that would allow workers to access their UIF payments directly.

“We have received numerous complaints from employees about not receiving their salaries even after UIF has made payments to their employers. This and other reasons prompted the department to appeal to the social partners at Nedlac to allow UIF to deposit funds directly into employees’ bank accounts,” UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping said in the statement.

The department has previously expressed concerns about vulnerable workers struggling to access the fund.

Earlier this month, Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi reported on efforts to ensure domestic and farm workers, many of whom will be allowed to return to work only under level two of the lockdown, would receive payments owed to them.

Nxesi announced that the department was working to trace domestic workers through their cellphone numbers “to ensure that they receive their necessary benefit”.

“Currently, the department is also going through its database to reach out to farm workers, who are also in our category of the most vulnerable groups,” Nxesi said.

“I have instructed the department to do everything possible to track and trace workers in these groups to ensure that, to the extent possible, no worker is left behind or falls through the crack of the social net we are providing.”