There has been some confusion about how employees who will not be paid during the lockdown can access promised financial help from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Last week the government announced that the fund would help employers and employees who needed financial assistance through the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Covid-19 Ters), previously referred to as the National Disaster Benefit.
However, desperate employees scrambling to ensure they have an income next month are frustrated about not knowing what documents are required and whether they can apply as individuals or if their employer must apply on their behalf. They say e-mails to the fund are not answered.
Many said information was made available too late and they are now struggling to get their employers to co-operate. Before lockdown started on Thursday last week, the UIF urged employers unable to pay full salaries to apply for the Covid-19 Ters benefit by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lungelo Mkamba, deputy director of communications for the department of labour and employment, said employers were encouraged to apply on behalf of their employees for the process to be faster, and to avoid the fund being overwhelmed by individual applications.
“Employees can report to us as well if their employer is not applying on their behalf so we can intervene,” he said Law firm Werksmans Attorneys said employees of a company which has to close for three months or less because of the Covid-19 pandemic would qualify for the Ters benefit, provided:
Werksmans said on its website that the benefit would be based on a salary up to a maximum of R17,712 a month for each employee, and an employee would be paid a percentage (38%-60% depending on income) as set out in the Unemployment Insurance Act.
At no time can the salary paid fall below the minimum wage in a particular sector. As the benefit is not linked to the UIF’s normal benefits, the rule that workers accumulate one day’s credit for every four days worked to the maximum 365 days payable for every four years worked will not apply.
Applications will be subject to the fund’s usual verification and validation processes. Where a company can still afford to pay part of a salary, the payout will work the same as maternity benefits, and Ters will top up earnings to a set sliding scale.
In addition to benefits when an employer closes, if employees are ordered to go into quarantine for 14 days because they have been exposed to someone with Covid-19, the employee will qualify for illness benefits. Earlier last week, labour lawyer and DA deputy shadow minister of labour and employment, Michael Bagraim, expressed concern that there wasn’t enough time to get the new initiative up and running.
He said he worried about individuals who don’t have easy access to the internet and the fact that they can’t queue at the department for help. We’re labour specialists and it took us a long time to get a small staff of 10 people properly registered. Can you imagine a factory of 500 people?”
Employees who feel they have been unfairly treated will also face a difficult road ahead. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is closed during the lockdown. According to law firm Webber Wentzel, a government-imposed lockdown can be seen as a force majeure in which an employer is able to implement a no-work-no-pay principle.
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