Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Commissioner Teboho Maruping has accused some South African employers of being intransigent and of willful ignorance of their responsibility to apply for COVID-19 benefits on behalf of their workers.
Some bosses have complained that the UIF application system for the temporary relief set aside for the COVID-19 crisis is cumbersome and hard to navigate.
The UIF has set aside over R40 billion to help employers and employees during this period after businesses were forced to shut their doors during the national lockdown.
Maruping said that while there were many narratives about the functionality of the UIF systems during this uncertain time, the numbers spoke for themselves.
The UIF has received 200,000 applications for the special fund since the lockdown was enforced in March, while R4.1 billion has been paid out to employers, covering just over a million workers.
Maruping explained: “Employers are saying that they cannot be forced by law to apply for people who can easily apply for themselves. And why would they apply when they are already not complying?”
Maruping is referring to 55,000 employers who applied for the TERS benefit, although they had never contributed to the fund.
It’s emerged that over a quarter of employers who have so far applied for the UIF’s temporary COVID-19 relief funds were not compliant and had never even interacted with the institution before this crisis.
The Unemployment Insurance Fund gives short-term relief to workers when they become unemployed or are unable to work, owing to maternity leave or illness, among other reasons.
But it appears that some employers have failed to make monthly contributions to the fund, leaving 361,000 workers out in the cold during the pandemic.
The story is not new.
Employers taking chances during the COVID-19 crisis to benefit from the sweat of other people’s brows. But just how widespread is this problem?
Just weeks ago, the Department of Trade and Industry said that companies misrepresented themselves to obtain essential services permits.
And now it’s the COVID-19 temporary employer/employee scheme.
UIF commissioner Maruping said that this had presented them with a special challenge that had seen mostly foreign nationals unregistered on their system.
“Just a case in point is that the 200,000 that have applied, 55,000 of these employers are not complying with UIF and that is why we are not able to pay R1.4 billion to 361,000 employees because the employers are coming to us for the very first time.”
Maruping has also dismissed allegations that foreign nationals who contributed to the fund have been unable to access benefits.
“You find a company would apply for 50 employees and out of these, 30 are foreign nationals and we cannot find them on our database. When we find South Africans, we pay the ones that have been declared on our side.”
In their applications to the UIF, employers are only required to divulge the identity, wages and period of employment of employees.
TERS BENEFIT ONLY COVERS LOCKDOWN PERIOD
The UIF said that workers who qualified for the COVID-19 temporary relief fund would receive between 36% and 60% of their monthly earnings.
The fund has been inundated with queries from employers and employees who are desperate for aid during the national lockdown that has led to the temporary shut down of some businesses.
UIF’s Maruping: “The COVID-19 TERS is a standalone benefit and it covers only the lockdown period and it covers between 38% and 60% of the salary of the employee and we don’t pay anything less than R3,500 and anything over R6,700.”
Workers who qualify for ordinary UIF payments are encouraged to apply as per normal.
The fund also uses the sale sliding scale to measure payouts to ordinary beneficiaries.