How to apply for UIF relief benefit

Unemployed people cannot queue for UIF payments during the lockdown. / JAMES OATWAY
Unemployed people cannot queue for UIF payments during the lockdown. / JAMES OATWAY

There has been some confusion about how employees who won't be paid during the lockdown can access promised financial help from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Last week the government announced UIF will help employers and employees who need financial assistance through the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Covid-19 Ters), previously referred to as the National Disaster Benefit.

However, desperate employees scrambling to ensure they have an income next month are frustrated about not knowing what documents are required and whether they can apply as individuals or if their employer must apply on their behalf. They say emails to the fund are not answered.

Many said information was made available too late and they are now struggling to get their employers to cooperate.

Before lockdown started on Thursday last week, the UIF urged employers unable to pay full salaries to apply for the Covid-19 Ters benefit by emailing covid19ters@labour.gov.za.

Lungelo Mkamba, deputy director of communications for the department of labour & employment, says employers are encouraged to apply on behalf of their employees for the process to be faster and to avoid the fund being overwhelmed by individual applications.

"Employees can report to us as well if their employer is not applying on their behalf so we can also intervene," he said.

Law firm Werksmans Attorneys says employees of a company which has to close for three months or less due to the Covid-19 pandemic will qualify for the Ters benefit, provided:

The employer is registered with the UIF;

The employer complies with the application procedure; and

The company's closure is directly linked to Covid-19.

Werksmans says on its website the benefit will be based on your salary up to a maximum of R17,712 a month for each employee and an employee will be paid a percentage (38%-60% depending on income) as set out in the Unemployment Insurance Act.

At no time can the salary paid fall below the minimum wager in a particular sector. As the benefit is not linked to the UIF's normal benefits, the rule that you accumulate one day's credit for every four days worked to the maximum 365 days payable for every four years worked, will not apply.

Applications will be subject to the fund's usual verification and validation processes.

Where your company can still afford to pay part of your salary, the payout will work the same as maternity benefits, where Ters will top up earnings to a set sliding scale.

In addition to benefits when an employer closes, if you are ordered to go into quarantine for 14 days because you have been exposed to someone with Covid-19, you will qualify for illness benefits.

Earlier last week, labour lawyer and DA deputy shadow minister of labour & employment, Michael Bagraim expressed concern that there wasn't enough time to get the new initiative up and running.

He says he worries about individuals who don't have easy access to the internet and the fact that they can't queue at the department for assistance.

"We're labour specialists and it took us a long time to get a small staff of 10 people properly registered. Can you imagine a factory of 500 people?"

Employees who feel they have been unfairly treated will also face a difficult road ahead. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is closed during the lockdown period.

According to law firm Webber Wentzel a government-imposed lockdown can be seen as a force majeure where your employer is able to implement a no work-no pay principle.

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