Workers in a clothing factory in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Workers in a clothing factory in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Thousands of workers in the clothing manufacturing industry became the first in SA to receive payouts from the Covid-19 relief fund run by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

This comes after employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi extended a ground-breaking agreement reached by textile industry stakeholders last week,  to nonparties, which allows for the sector's employees to be paid their full wages for a six-week Covid-19 lockdown period.

The agreement, which was concluded in the clothing industry bargaining council on March 23, was gazetted by Nxesi on March 26.

Marthie Raphael, national chair of the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry of SA, said the council received its first tranche of worker UIF funds on Friday “which was to compensate workers for loss of wages for the first full day of the lockdown, March 27, and which was the last day of that pay-week in the clothing industry”.

“On the same day that the funds were received, these worker UIF monies were seamlessly transmitted from the bargaining council’s special dedicated Covid-19 bank account to the wage-bank accounts of 367 companies employing 38,751 employees”.

Raphael said while there are still delays in the receipt of relief funds due to clothing and textile workers, “our bargaining council is pleased that this innovative payment transmission system which we had designed in conjunction with the UIF, has concretely proven to be efficient and effective”.

“It is now our hope that the outstanding worker UIF funds still due to clothing and textile workers will now be speedily processed and transmitted to the bargaining council for transfer to workers,” she said.

Johann Baard, executive director of the SA Apparel Association, told Business Day: “We believe that as the industry leadership we showed foresight by being proactive in the run up to the Covid-19 lockdown.” He said the monies would bring “much-needed relief” to the industry workers.

SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union deputy general secretary Vilina Membinkosi they are “very much excited” that their members have been the first in the country to tap into the Covid-19 relief fund.

“Sactwu saw the problem in the country even before the lockdown was announced by the president,” said Membinkosi. He said the fact that there are over 15-million workers in SA spurred them into looking at how best their members could access the relief fund, a move that led to the agreement in the bargaining council last month.

Apparel and Textile Association of SA (Atasa) executive director Rajen Naicker echoed Baard, saying: “We believe that it was the proactive decision to try to secure payments to workers during the lockdown. We didn’t anticipate that our workers will join the queue at the UIF offices as [that would have gone] against the call for a lockdown.”

Meanwhile, Nxesi said on Monday the Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (Ters), had paid a total of R1.1bn to workers in formal employment who’ve lost their income as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nxesi said the UIF has received 55,268 applications from employers representing about 1.6-million employees. In total, the UIF has over 1.8-million employers registered on its database representing more than eight-million workers.

“The UIF is working round the clock to meet the extraordinary volumes of requests for assistance presented by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Nxesi.

“The Covid-19 benefit scheme will provide much-needed relief to employees who have been laid off work or unable to earn an income due to Covid-19.”

Nxesi said the UIF system was under pressure due to the “extraordinary volumes of requests” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected about 3,158 people and killed 54 in SA.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za