South Africa: Covid-19 - Restaurant Owners Fume At TERS Failures

Many immigrant restaurant workers find themselves excluded from payment system

As applications under the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) reopened on Monday, 19 July, for selected industries, members of the Restaurant Association of South Africa voiced their frustrations at a digital meeting with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

TERS applications for the period from 16 March 2021 to 25 July 2021 are now being accepted, with payments to begin from 26 July 2021. TERS is open for workers who have not been able to work from 16 March 2021 due to restrictions, including those in the restaurant industry. This round of TERS payments will depart from previous rounds, as payments will in the main be made directly to the bank accounts of workers and not through their employers. Employers will still be expected to make claims on behalf of their employees.

At the Monday virtual meeting, which had over 450 participants, restaurant owners said that they had struggled with the TERS system. Some restaurants had applications on appeal, which meant they cannot apply for the current phase.

Others say the TERS online portal says they had submitted successfully but have received no payment since last year. Many said that they had faced difficulties claiming for immigrant employees.

Wendy Alberts, spokesperson for the Restaurant Association, told GroundUp that some restaurant owners are still waiting for outstanding payments of TERS that haven't been paid since the initial lockdown.

During the meeting, Director for Provincial Support in UIF Operations Allan Ragalavoo said the department has a backlog of 320 outstanding appeals and that the main reason for this backlog is that restaurant owners and their representatives sometimes do not provide correct email addresses for communication purposes. This suggestion was rubbished by Ian Stevens who said he was still waiting for payment on his approved appeal for months, despite having the same email addresses for the past ten years.

Restaurant owner Syd Catton said his experience with TERS was one of "dismal failure". "They failed to help us lodge a claim and get paid," he said. "We got emails stating invalid files. The UIF office was unable to advise what was invalid or how to fix it."

Catton said they received umpteen emails with confusing updates on the process and often contradicting the previous one.

Meanwhile, restaurant owner Lee Atkinson told the meeting that she was struggling to register immigrant employees, as the TERS system requires South African identity numbers and rejects passports. "Foreign nationals whose documents expired during lockdown are not getting TERS. Banks are accepting the extension allowed by the government; however, UIF are not accepting them," she said.

On 16 July Department of Employment and Labour spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi told GroundUp, "What we have experienced with most employers in this sector is that most employees are not declared with the UIF, and the biggest challenge is that the majority are foreign nationals whose identification fail verification both with Home Affairs and SARS. In such instances, we are unable to pay. If, however, the bank details and IDs are positively verified payments are processed. It is therefore very important that employers provide accurate and correct details of their employers to the fund to prevent delays in payments."

Buthelezi said the department has been working on strengthening the system. "With every new extension, we improve the system to reduce possible fraud and ensure that TERS benefits are paid to the correct people."

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