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Covid-19 lockdown: UIF: it's not what they say it is

Covid-19 lockdown: UIF: it's not what they say it is

The daily surveys done by NEASA indicates that, 6 days after the end of April, 53% of employers still haven’t received their TERS monies from the UIF. Many employees affected by this do not have food on the table. This is not the impression one gets by listening to claims made by the UIF.

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The following is a letter by a concerned employer - NEASA member.

As a concerned citizen and desperate employer, I would like to bring to your attention how government is bringing all other SA citizens under a false belief that we are dealing with an effective UIF system under their control, and that EMPLOYERS are to be blamed for hundreds of thousands of employees not having been paid their promised UIF benefits.

On Tuesday 28 April 2020 Minister of Labour Thulas Nxesi made the statement that 220000 workers who are eligible to claim for salary benefits, could miss out on payments because their employers have not applied for relief. He further stated that “The reason for these numbers is because some employers have not even dared to help the employees and we continue to appeal to them to help us”.

I would like to set the record straight.

We are a company employing 450 employees. We therefore enable 450 citizens to provide an income, livelihood, to their families. About 400 of those employees, are factory workers. They live from paycheck to paycheck. Without us, as employer, being able to supply them with work and an income, they together with their extended families, would not be able to make a living.

The lockdown has hit us hard. To us, lockdown means no sales, no exports, no retail, no manufacturing, no income. This caused us not being able to pay our creditors or our employees. Due to our staff head count, we do not qualify for any financial relief as we do not fall within the definition of an SMME. We have no other option but to submit UIF claims on behalf of our staff.

After engaging with SACTWU, we agreed to a payment arrangement with the National Textile Bargaining Council (NTBC) on behalf of 300 of our weekly paid staff. According to this agreement, the UIF were supposed to pay these weekly paid staff on a weekly basis for 2 of the initial 3 weeks of lockdown. Despite numerous pleas from the NTBC, up to date hereof, only one partial payment was made by the UIF.

For our remaining 150 monthly paid employees, we had to proceed with a Covid19TERS claim directly to the UIF. We initially contacted the dedicated Covid19TERS e-mail address the first time on 26 March. The response mail had no templates attached. After a couple of further mails, we received the required templates and submitted our claim on 7 April. We received a mail that the required templates had been amended, so we had to amend our claim and re-submit, which we did on the same day.

On the same evening of the lockdown being extended, we submitted a further claim for the extended period of lockdown (9 April).

Once again the templates were changed, leading to us having to re-submit our claim on 14 April. Once again the templates are changed, and we are required to re-submit again on 16 April.

We then read in the media that the UIF indicated that the e-mail address used by all to submit their claims, is no longer active due to high demand, and that all employers who have not yet received any monies, should re-submit their claim on their online portal. We proceed to register, but are unable to access our account. I try during all hours of the day and night, but the problem persist. I send a mail with my query to the dedicated e-mail address provided for by TERS on 22 April, but receive no feedback. I try calling the helpline, but it remains unanswered. On 28 April I send a follow-up e-mail, as well as on 29 April, also no response.

Throughout this time I contact various HR service providers to assist with submission of the claim, but none of them are able to gain access to our online account. We are also told that several of their clients are also experiencing the same problem. I nevertheless continue sending my queries together with our claims to all mentioned e-mail addresses used for purposes of the Covid19-TERS claims.

On 5 May I made several calls to the UIF fund. After holding on for what seemed to be an eternity, my call is answered and an agent confirms that it seems that our online account/portal is blocked. He informs me that he will submit a request for our account to be unblocked, but that it would take about 48 hours to process.

In the meantime, we still have no access to our account, no official means to submit our TERS claim, no confirmation that our claim has been received and are being processed, and no funds to pay to our staff.

So when Minister Thulas Nxesi makes the statement that the reason for so many employees not getting paid their UIF, is due to EMPLOYERS not daring to help their staff, it is nothing short of complete nonsense fed to desperate and hungry people, in an attempt to hide his own department’s incompetence. It is not us, it is his department that is failing the people!

So no, we have dared to help. We continue trying every day. But we are losing hope. And 450 families have no means to put bread on the table. The true National Disaster is not the Covid 19 Virus, it is the inability of the Department of Labour to distribute available resources to those that need it most.