Amendment to regulations seen as a victory for domestic and farm workers
All workers, whether or not they were registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund at the time of the lockdown, can now apply for Covid-19 TERS funding in what has been described as a victory, particularly for farm and domestic workers.
The new regulations published this week by Employment and Labour Minister Thembelani Nxesi, also allow anyone who has lost income or been forced to take annual leave to apply for benefits from the Temporary Employer Relief Scheme.
The amendments came on the eve of an urgent Labour Court application launched by the Casual Workers' Advice Office, Women on Farms Project and Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance.
In a joint statement, the three organisations said workers who had been previously excluded from the scheme because their employers had unlawfully failed to register them for UIF, would now qualify for the benefit.
"Domestic and farm workers have been among the worst affected groups of workers due to the precarious nature of employment in these sectors and the high levels of non-compliance from employers. Many industrial workers have suffered a similar fate."
"This victory will be vital in securing the livelihoods of workers who have been most severely impacted by the economic consequences of lockdown," they said.
They said it had been a hard-fought battle, involving an "unnecessarily slow and protracted process".
They had first raised the issue on April 1 in a letter to the Minister pointing out that workers could not apply for the relief for themselves. Employers were "encouraged" to apply on their behalf but were not required to do so.
The organisations also pointed out that workers not registered with UIF were being punished by their employers' illegal conduct. "The government's piecemeal approach to deal with these two straightforward issues has resulted in distress and hunger for millions of workers over the last two months," they said.
On 16 April the minister amended the original directive, ordering that employers "must" apply on behalf of workers, but there was still no enforcement mechanism to ensure they did so.
"In another amendment signed on 30 April, the government made a complete U-turn, officially allowing workers to apply individually if the employer had failed to do so. As of today, there is still no clear information on how workers can apply," the organisations said. This needed to be urgently addressed.
Labour lawyer Dunstan Farrell told GroundUp that the amendment should be followed by an amnesty of some sort.
"The regulations now define a worker as a contributor to the UIF, or an employee as defined in the Unemployment Act, who should have received benefits but because of circumstances under his control did not. These circumstances include the failure of the employer to register the employee and pay the contributions. This is a contravention of law and attracts penalties."
"Without some form of amnesty, errant employers may not be willing to assist the employee in providing proof of their employment," Farrell said.
The TERS benefit is calculated on a sliding scale with a maximum monthly benefit of R 6,730 and a minimum of R3,500.
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