Government to fast-track broad and extensive social security coverage for workers - Employment and Labour Minister T.W Nxesi
Government will through Nedlac call for a speedy policy and legislative review to deal with shortcomings of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the social security safety net for workers - as exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said the focus will be with regard to the informal sector, atypical employees and the 'gig economy'.
Minister Nxesi added that the pandemic also exposed the inadequate capacity of the state on many fronts as demonstrated with challenges faced with COVID-19 Temporary Employment Relief Schemes (Ters) benefits in relation to exposure to fraud and corruption.
He was addressing the Department's webinar today (June 11) to share its milestone and interventions to help mitigate the worst effects of COVID-19 pandemic in the labour market and beyond.
The Webinar was held under the theme: "Social relief & Health and Safety interventions to mitigate the effects of Covid-19".
Minister Nxesi also said the pandemic has "taught us the value of social dialogue" adding that Nedlac played a critical role in uniting social partners in a common response to the pandemic - shaping the income relief responses, and the health and safety directions for workplaces.
"The pandemic, and lockdowns, resulted in massive disruption to economic activity and livelihoods," he said adding that, "2020 experienced a 7% drop in GDP resulting in 1 million jobs lost. The First-Quarter unemployment rate for 2021 rose by 0.1% to 32.6% - though less than the 33.4% predicted by economists. The figures are stabilizing - but remain unacceptably high".
The Director-General Thobile Lamati said work to address universal social security coverage was ongoing. Lamati said the battle against Covid-19 required a shared leadership with all social partners.
To date, Covid-19 has led to 57,000 fellow South Africans who have died as a result of the pandemic.
Minister Nxesi said as part of interventions, government working together with the social partners, "we were able to mitigate some of the effects of the pandemic and lockdowns, leveraging our social security institutions, particularly the Unemployment Insurance Fund, working with business and labour to create the Covid-19 Ters benefits, and to build a mass network to distribute the new benefits on an unprecedented scale," he said.
The Minister said through social security interventions the department through the UIF using Ters started paying out the Covid-19 benefits from April 2020. As at 31 March 2021, payments were made to 267,000 employers and to 5.4 million individual employees at a cost of R 58.7 billion - providing support to laid-off workers, their families and communities across the country, he said.
The Minister said the department had used its Health and Safety inspectors to support social partners in Nedlac in the drafting of Covid-19 Health and Safety directions, as well as to inspect and enforce the new regulations alongside existing Health and Safety regulations. He said despite Covid-19 conditions, over 31,000 Health and Safety inspections were conducted for the period 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.
This, he said was achieved working with reduced budgets as the pandemic and economic trends adversely impacted government revenues.
The Department's 2020/21 original budget of more than R3,6-billion was reduced by 7,2 percent to just more than R3,3-billion. This followed the special adjustment by National Treasury.
Nxesi said following the department's appointment of an additional 500 occupational health and safety (OHS) inspectors as previously announced in 2019 budget vote, their addition came in handy in the battle against Covid-19 making possible a four-fold increase in the number of inspections planned for 2021/22. He said the target is to conduct over 96,000 OHS inspections this year.
The webinar was also addressed by Compensation Fund Commissioner Vuyo Mafata, Cosatu Secretary-General Bheki Ntshalintshali, Business Unity South Africa Vice-President Martin Kingston, Independent Economist Duma Gqubule, UIF Chief Operation Officer Judith Kumbi and Deputy Minister Boitumelo Moloi delivered the closing address.