The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling upon the Department of Employment and Labour to re-open the main labour centres in all nine provinces to deal with the flood of Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) claims that will be submitted as a result of the 21-day lockdown period.
On 27 March, the Department indicated that all labour centres would be closed for the duration of the lockdown, and advised members of the public to stop visiting them. Instead, employers and workers were advised to access the Department’s services – such as the downloading and submission of UIF forms – electronically.
The Department’s rationale for closing labour centres was to limit the spread of Covid-19. While understandable, the effect of this move has been to leaveUIF claimants stranded at a time when they need the Department’s help most acutely.
Many UIF claimants do not have computers to access the Department’s services online. They need to be able to access hard copies of the relevant forms and submit them manually. It should be possible for the Department to continue offering a pared-down frontline service while enforcing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures at labour centres.
A vast number of small business owners who are unable to pay their workers’ salaries during the lockdown will need to apply for the UIF’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Covid-19 TERS) benefit. This benefit pays towards the salary costs of employees during the temporary closure of business operations.
Currently, applicants for the Covid-19 TERS beneft cannot submit manual applications. They are served by one email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a hotline number (012 337 1997) for benefit enquiries.
Clearly this will not be sufficient to respond to the high number of enquiries and applications occasioned by the lockdown.
The Department of Employment and Labour should re-open the main labour centres in each provice and capacitate the UIF to deal with the deluge of claims coming its way.