Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi announced on March 31 that applications for the National Disaster Covid-19 benefit, which had been put in place to mitigate the effects of lay-offs during the lockdown, would not be handled on an individual basis and would instead need to be submitted by sectoral associations and bargaining councils.
Nxesi said the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), which was administering the benefits, was not in a position to deal with millions of individual claims.
“Rather we have put in place systems to pay out UIF benefits through companies, sectoral associations and bargaining councils. We are in the process of concluding such an agreement with the Textile Bargaining Council. We would also like to mention that discussions with the travel and tourism sector are under way.”
The department had also engaged with the Banking Council to facilitate UIF payments, and further details would be released as the process unfolded.
In doing so, South Africa would move away from the traditional model of individual claims through labour centres to ensure that these centres “do not become virus hubs” amid the outbreak.
Nxesi further stressed that such arrangements for group and collective payments required that the department entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with employer bodies and bargaining councils confirming that their use of the monies would be subject to an audit.
The move had led to some resistance from some employers, the Minister lamented.
“We all need to understand that these are public funds that by law have to be audited. We, therefore, shall insist on the implementation of proper governance in this regard. None of us have a choice in the matter,” he said during the briefing.
Nxesi also urged employers to consider South Africa’s “unique position” during the global Covid-19 health crisis with respect to their employees, and provisions and procedures in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the National Disaster legislation and regulations.
He indicated that the Department of Employment and Labour had received complaints and concerns from workers and trade unions that some employers were seeking to shift the burden of the lockdown on to workers through using annual leave as the first line of response to the lockdown.
The department has also received complaints from workers that some employers had instructed them to take unpaid leave during the lockdown. Nxesi noted that, in terms of the leave determination, “employers can compel employees to take leave at any time as they deem fit”.
Considering the country’s unique situation, however, the department had issued a directive explaining the process to be followed.
In terms of essential workers, Nxesi also expressed concern that some employers, whose companies were not deemed and essential services, were forcing employees to work.
He noted that employers are either unaware of, or choose to ignore the provisions of the National Disaster legislation and regulations. These, he reiterated, only provide for essential services and production to continue during the country’s three-week lockdown.
“In terms of Regulation 11G, this is a criminal offence and puts at risk not only those employees, but all who they are in contact with and goes against the call for as many of us as possible to “stay at home”.
Any employee who is not involved in a business delivering essential services and goods and who is forced to work is entitled to contact the South African Police Service and report their employer.
In respect of workers who are required to work during the national lockdown period, employers are required to ensure that the OHSA is adhered to in respect of occupational hygiene and the provision of personal protective equipment.
In response to numerous complaints from workers that some employers are forcing them to work without the necessary PPE, labour inspectors are in the process of following up.
So far, various retail and manufacturing enterprises have been temporarily closed for the lack of PPE and failure to ensure physical distancing.