South Africa: Minister Thulas Nxesi - Report On State of Occupational Health and Safety

press release

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 the Fund has rendered relief against income loss to approximately 5, 4 million workers with over R61, 2 billion disbursed. A further extension until 15 March 2021 assisted up to 74,000 workers where over R703 million was paid. Under the latest adjusted level 4 lockdown the Fund has extended this relief further with an estimated budget of R5,3 billion for which applications have been opened.

Following the announcement by the President on Sunday evening about various government interventions aimed at assisting businesses and all workers affected by the recent unrests in the country, the Department of Employment and Labour is committed to assist workers who have been affected by the recent unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal.

According to our own assessment about 75 000 employees have been affected by the latest unrests in the two provinces and this may mean a temporal work stoppage or an outright retrenchment. The Unemployment Insurance Fund has a basket of benefits that can serve as intervention mechanism to the affected workers and companies as a result of the unrests.

It should be mentioned upfront that there is currently no benefit quite suitable for the current situation, and COVID-19 TERS cannot be applicable as it was established as an intervention for a disaster situation.

Therefore, the current benefits under the Unemployment Insurance Act are the only interventions available to cover the affected workers, however, in order to ensure that some of the basic tenets of the Act are not violated, the Department is going to draft a special directive dealing with the affected workers in the two provinces.

The spirit of the directive would be to ensure that workers who would normally not qualify for these benefits due to non-compliance with the Act are able to access the benefits.

However, I should emphasise that it will not be a free for all, the criteria to determine who qualifies is going to be very stringent and payments will not be generous. Whiles it is our desire to pay all affected workers; it should be borne in mind that finance is a limited resource.

Therefore, I have instructed the officials to gather data of businesses that have been affected, and also perform an analysis of those who will afford to carry their employee's salaries during this period. On the basis of this analysis we shall be able to indicate the benefit calculation that we will follow; whether it is a flat rate across the board, an Income Replacement Rate, or combination of the two - depending on the nature of the application.

All details pertaining to who qualifies, payment structure, the application process and the duration of the payment period will be outlined in the direction. We are mindful of the urgency of the matter, therefore we commit to expediting the process of drafting and approval of the directive. The UIF already has a system in place that will help fast track the payments.

Just as it is the case with the Covid TERS Benefit, we want the employer to play a key role in the application process. The details of the process will be outlined in the Direction, however, what is important is that the benefit will have to be paid directly into the account of the employee. This will make the benefit immediately available to assist the employee, and it will reduce the risk of possible fraud.

Businesses or companies in distress following the unrests may also apply for the normal Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS). TERS is designed to assist companies who are temporarily in distress, but with a plan in place to turn the business around within a period of 6 to 12 months.

Applications for TERS are made via the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), and an independent adjudication committee evaluates all proposals and makes a recommendation to the Director-General of the Department of Employment and Labour. Upon approval by the DG, the UIF then processes the claim and monitor the implementation of the programme.

It is a reality that some of the businesses will not fully recover from the damage of the unrest, which will result in retrenchments. The UIF will ensure that it prioritises those retrenched employees in some of the Labour Activation Programmes that are designed to place retrenched workers in employment opportunities.

In the next few months, those factories and shops that were burnt down will be rebuilt. This is very good for our economy and prospects for employment. We commend those companies who have committed to rebuild their factories and warehouses. As most of you would know that we administer Construction Regulations which requires that a construction works permit to be issued to companies that want to undertake a building.

Often this process takes about thirty days. Our Inspection and Enforcement services will hasten to facilitate the issuing of construction work permits to construction companies to ensure the speedy rebuilding of damaged infrastructure.

The Compensation Fund continues to support those who have become sick in the line of duty and so far, just under R90-million has been disbursed for temporary total disablement, medical aid, permanent disablement, funeral costs as well as dependent benefits.

Regrettably, 92 fatalities have been recorded and a total of 26 073 claims have been submitted either directly to the Compensation Fund or the mutual funds that have been licensed by the Minister of Employment and Labour (Rand Mutual Assurance and Federated Employers). Our systems are robust and we are well-funded to take care of the claims that may still come.

We are also through our Inspection and Enforcement Unit ensuring that workplaces are as safe as possible and that the health of all workers is ensured to the extent possible.

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