The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling upon the government to extend the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief (Ters) scheme, in light of the extension of the adjusted level 3 lockdown announced last night.
The prolonged lockdown is devastating hundreds of businesses, many of them in the tourism, hospitality and liquor industries, which are either unable to operate or are only able to operate partially under increased restrictions.
This in turn is jeopardising the livelihoods of thousands of employees who are unable to earn an income. Workers have been left high and dry by the government, which has thus far failed to offer any sort of financial relief to compensate them for lost income. This is either an act of malign indifference or willful callousness on the government’s part, as employers and employees have been left to suffer in hardship over the holiday season.
The Covid-19 Ters scheme came to an end on 15 October, but the lockdown did not. For as long as the government prevents people from participating in the economy, it has a duty to mitigate the devastating economic impact with financial assistance.
As at 15 December 2020, the UIF had disbursed roughly R56 billion in Ters benefits for the period from the end of March to 15 October 2020. We know there is still money in the UIF pot, although it has been significantly depleted. A written reply to a DA parliamentary question last year indicated that the UIF was sitting on a total investment portfolio of R114 billion as at 31 March, with R60 billion in liquid assets and R54 billion in illiquid assets.
What is particularly galling is that it seems several members of the UIF’s suspended top brass are still sitting at home on full pay at a combined monthly cost of R450 551.39. They were suspended in September after the Auditor-General found there was a lack of proper financial controls at the UIF.
Meanwhile, thousands of ordinary workers face financial ruin in the absence of Ters benefits.
The DA calls upon the government to extend the Covid-19 Ters scheme for the duration of the adjusted Level 3 lockdown. The Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, should communicate with the public on this matter urgently, as well as on the long-term financial sustainability of the UIF and what consequences there will be for government officials (and UIF officials in particular) who have been party to defrauding the UIF.