Thousands of workers left without means to put food on the table during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown have found some relief now that they can access Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) special benefits, even if their employers have not registered or paid contributions.
Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi on Monday amended a directive pertaining to the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) to now allow workers to claim even where their employers did not register them for UIF, provide the required details, or pay the necessary contributions.
Ters, which is administered by the UIF, was a special benefit created by the minister to provide relief to those in formal employment anticipated to lose income as a result of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, which has wreaked havoc on SA’s economy.
The benefit provides for a minimum payment of R3,500 per month, and a maximum of R6,700. As of last week UIF has disbursed more than R14bn in Covid-19 relief benefits.
The amendments, which were signed off by the minister on Monday and due to be gazetted on Tuesday, come amid a legal challenge by three non-profit organisations: the Casual Workers Advice Office, the Women on Farms Project and Izwi Domestic Workers.
The applicants have also wanted workers to be permitted to apply for Ters benefits directly as, initially, it was only employers who could apply for the benefit on behalf of employees. But mounting frustration over companies not applying for the benefit prompted Nxesi to amend the regulations earlier in May to allow employees to apply for the benefit themselves.
The matter was set down to be heard on Thursday but the three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have undertaken to withdraw their application.
Kelly Kropman of Kropman Attorneys, who represents the applicants, said it is a landmark victory for workers who are not unionised.
“This matter concerns those who do not have the benefit of collective bargaining or other methods of power balance redress. Many people have been without income for over eight weeks now and their situation has long passed desperation. They will now be able to support their families with dignity,” said Kropman.
“Although it took a lot of negotiation, and some litigation, the state has listened to the concerns of civil society and decided to make provision for vulnerable and precariously placed workers. In effect the state is respecting that social security applies to all.”