Some security guards working for a company called Millennium Body Guards in Pretoria are embroiled in a fight over UIF with their employer.
The workers claimed they were not paid last month after they were laid off following an indication by the company that it was under financial strain due to the lockdown.
They accused the company of failing to request the government’s interim relief funds.
The funds were to make up for workers who lost salaries, but the guards alleged they were shocked not to receive salaries in April despite the company making UIF deductions.
One of them, Irene Tshilongamulenze, said: “Our last day at work was April 1 and we’d hoped to receive our UIF money on May 1. But to our shock, we were not paid at all. We grouped ourselves on May 4 and approached the company about the matter.”
She said workers who have been affected were not told the reasons behind their lack of payments.
Workers said they were disappointed about the turn of events given that the company had been deducting UIF contributions from their salaries.
Jonas Skolas, another guard, said he was suspended two weeks ago after he started a WhatsApp group for his colleagues to talk about problems affecting them at work.
The alleged failure by the company to claim for their UIF contributions was one of the problems.
Skolas said he was not among the laid-off workers, but he believed they were unfairly treated.
In a statement issued on behalf of the company, the firm Rianie Strijdom Attorney said: “Take note that the basis of an employment relationship is the employment contract entered into between the employee and the employer in terms of which the employee would render services to the employer and the employer would remunerate the employee for services rendered.
“Thus, an employer is under no legal obligation to pay wages or salaries to employees if no ‘hours of work’ could take place, as was the situation our client found itself in during the lockdown period.”
They said their client had not retrenched any guards and had paid either half or full wages. “Therefore, our client only needed to apply for UIF to be paid out on behalf of a few employees. Our client denies that it promised any payments to employees from a government relief fund.
“It did not receive any UIF payments from the government and cannot confirm if any payments were made to employees, as it would have been paid to the employees directly from the government, as this was the basis on which the UIF applications were made,” they said.
Labour Department spokesperson Mishack Magakwe said there could be a number of possibilities why the employees were not paid.
“There are other companies that applied but didn’t submit relevant documents and as a result their claims could not be processed. That might be one of the reasons,” he said.
In other scenarios, he said, companies were paid but decided to keep the money for themselves and not pay their employees.
All employers have two days upon the receipt of the payments to settle employees’ salaries.
“If they are not paying the employees (after receiving payments), we will take legal actions against them,” he said.
Employees can check “using their IDs” with the UIF call centre if their employers have applied for the relief funds.
They can also formally lodge complaints with the Labour Department, stating that they have not been paid.
“What we can do is to check if they are registered for UIF. If the company has not been paying them we can send our inspectors there to investigate the matter,” Magakwe said.