'Give workers their pension funds'

Cosatu proposed that workers should access their pension fund as most of them have had their salaries cut./Ziyaad Douglas / Gallo Images
Cosatu proposed that workers should access their pension fund as most of them have had their salaries cut./Ziyaad Douglas / Gallo Images

The Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (Asisa) is in the process of putting together a working group to deliberate on the issue of allowing workers access to their retirement funds.

Asisa, which speaks for majority of asset fund managers in the country, wants to supplement salary losses for workers due to Covid-19 and the lockdown.

This comes after labour federation, Cosatu this week, wrote to finance minister Tito Mboweni proposing that retirement funds should be one of the financial relief measures the government should consider as thousands of workers have either lost their jobs or had their salaries cut.

Cosatu believes that this would be an additional measure at the government's disposal which would not over indebt the already indebted citizens.

Asisa's senior policy advisor Rosemary Lightbody said they would be looking into how retirement fund can be used to supplement the loss of salaries and make proposals to government.

"Asisa is therefore in the process of establishing a working group that will consist of representatives from our member companies to consider the calls for access to retirement savings by those who remain in employment," Lightbody said.

Asisa speaks on behalf of major fund managers who manage retirement fund money, including Sanlam, Alan Gray, Liberty and Coronation Fund Managers.

According to Lightbody, following their meeting, they would make proposals to the National Treasury, SA Revenue Service and the Financial Sector Conduct Authority as such a move would require changes to various legislations, including the pension fund laws as well as the Income Tax Act.

"It is important to bear in mind that we are only talking about members who are still employed. So, the individuals who are in need of access to retirement fund savings are those who are still employed, but are receiving reduced salaries."

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they believed that by doing this, the government would be saving millions of people by allowing them to borrow from their future to save themselves today.

They argued that instead of companies being forced to retrench workers, they could, for the next six months, pay a portion of their salaries with the shortfall being covered by the money from the retirement fund which will mean companies will be able to keep them employed during this period.

This, according to them, will also mean less people relied on government's relief measures such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund - temporary employer/employer relief scheme.

"Our approach is that these are workers' deferred wages anyway. These are salaries that workers set aside portions so that they can take care of themselves and their families when they retire," Pamla said.

Mboweni's spokesperson Mashudu Masutha said they were not commenting on the matter "currently".

Professor John Hall, financial management head of department at the University of Pretoria, said this was a dangerous road to take as it would negatively affect people's future.

"The financial personal finance long-term retirement implication is that now you are accessing your funds and depending on your age, if you start at a very young age it's possible that you can make up a small withdrawal over a future long period. However, if you withdraw a large amount of money and you are close to your retirement it will have a serious detrimental financial effect on the size of your retirement payout," Hall said.

Chairperson of the Sanlam Umbrella Fund, David Gluckman, said they were participating in the discussions "to explore mechanisms to enable financial resilience for fund members".

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