Workers fear no work, no pay during lockdown

Some workers who are forced to stay home because of the nationwide lockdown might also face poverty, as payments from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) might not be processed on time.

Department of Employment and Labour spokesperson, Thembinkosi Mkhaliphi, told The Star on Thursday that private companies were not obliged to pay salaries upfront.

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi on Wednesday announced that the UIF would compensate the workers who would be affected by the lockdown through the Illness and Reduced Work Time benefits.

Mkhaliphi said even though the department had appealed to companies to approach the UIF for assistance, they were not obliged to do so. “Those workers should on their own apply for UIF but it’s going to take a bit longer to claim the money from the UIF.”

He added that it was understandable that during the lockdown companies would experience cash-flow problems as there will be no production.

A Gauteng company this week informed its 150 employees that it would be temporarily laying them off during the lockdown period. The firm said it could not pay salaries for the 21 days of non-production as it would already lose R9million.

Mkhaliphi said there was no law that compels companies to approach the department for UIF.

“It is far better if the company pays workers then invoices the UIF for what they paid, and then get paid back the money through the UIF.

“The company can also get the money upfront from the UIF and then pay the workers themselves, but now there is no law that says, ‘employers you are forced to make the payment’,” he said.

He emphasized that there would be delays in processing the applications.

“I cannot even say it will take two weeks, as the UIF division might only start operating after three weeks when the claims come in.

“We hope employers will be generous and go the extra mile to ensure that their employees are looked after, with the understanding that they will get their money back from the UIF,” he said.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said while it supported the lockdown the government did not adequately consult with them before implementing the measures that would affect workers.

“Given the continuous socio-economic conditions of workers and the working class in general in South Africa, it cannot be accepted that the government and business can trigger a 21-day shutdown and expect workers to pay for this crisis.

“We demand and call on the government to ensure that workers across all sectors of the economy are guaranteed full pay during this 21-day shutdown.

“We reject the notion that employers use workers’ wages to pay them through paid leave,” said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa’s senior attorney, Thulani Nkosi, said domestic workers should also be paid because the lockdown was not their fault.

He said he understood that workers registered with the UIF would be able to claim “with no difficulty”. “The problem is the majority are not registered with the UIF, and it seems the government is relying on the goodwill of individual employers.”

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