A number of labour department workers have tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the closure of centres in Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Paarl and Pretoria. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN
A number of labour department workers have tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the closure of centres in Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Paarl and Pretoria. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN

The department of employment & labour, which administers the Covid-19 relief funds, has had to shut several offices across SA after its employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

This could inadvertently lead to further delays in the processing of applications for the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters), administered by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Since April, the UIF has paid more than R23bn to 3,663,932 workers represented by 322,422 employers.

For the May payments alone, the UIF disbursed R5.8bn for 1,440,757 individuals to help them cope with the worst effects of the lockdown, said UIF spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi.

There have been ongoing complaints from the business sector and employers about the department’s capacity to expeditiously process the claims.

On May 27, the UIF apologised for what it described as “a freak break in its network, which has affected plans to capture the May Covid-19 Ters online applications”. The DA dismissed the delay as unacceptable, saying “it constitutes a ticking time bomb”.

In the Western Cape, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in SA, the department said on Wednesday the Mitchells Plain labour centre, with its satellite office in Nyanga will remain closed for an additional week, after employees tested positive for Covid-19.

The Paarl labour centre has also been closed since Wednesday after a positive case. The department said these labour centres will remain closed to allow workers who may have been in contact with the affected employees to self-isolate and for decontamination to take place.

Eastern Cape

The UIF head office in Pretoria also closed its doors on Wednesday after an employee tested positive for Covid-19. As the UIF administers the Ters the closure of the head office is expected to have an impact on the fund’s operations, said departmental spokesperson Teboho Thejane. The payment of benefits will continue, he said.

In the Eastern Cape, the province with the third-highest Covid-19 cases in the country, the labour centre in East London resumed operations last week after it was closed due to a coronavirus case.

The Paarl labour centre is expected to reopen on June 22, while the Mitchells Plain centre and Nyanga satellite office are expected to reopen on June 25. The department has urged clients to use its online services in the meantime.

Employment and labour director-general Thobile Lamati said: “Our officials are an important cog of the working of the SA economy and as such, we will also ensure that they are as safe as possible.”

Meanwhile, the home affairs head office in Pretoria had to be vacated on Thursday after a general worker tested positive for Covid-19. The department said seven officials had come into contact with the worker and the officials had been advised to self-isolate as they were not showing any symptoms.

“The building is being disinfected and officials are expected to return on Tuesday,” the department said in a statement.

The department of home affairs reopened under level 4 lockdown to provide services including the issuing of uncollected ID documents, registration of births and deaths, and passports to those in the export business.  

When the country eased to level 3 on June 1, the department resumed marriage services.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za