Unemployed people queue for UIF payments. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Unemployed people queue for UIF payments. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The government’s relief scheme for workers has been extended until mid-September, but the payment of benefits has been suspended.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) said the payments of the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) had been suspended on Monday.

“The UIF has delayed the Covid-19 Ters benefits payments to mitigate risks identified by the auditor-general in the Covid-19 Ters application system,” spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi said.

“While understanding the frustration this might cause, we are committed to pay deserving and authentic workers,” Buthelezi said.

He said the fund would announce when the payments would resume. It was not clear when that would be.

This is the second time, in less than a month, that the payment of Ters has been suspended. At the end of August, payments were suspended for a day so that the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) could address weaknesses in the online system that could expose it to potential fraud.

The payment of benefits under Ters, funded by the UIF, was put in place to help workers affected by the almost six-month coronavirus lockdown. However, Ters has been hit by problems, including backlogs and unauthorised payments, which left workers unable to access assistance after companies cut jobs or imposed pay reductions.

The auditor-general has since uncovered alleged fraud and irregularities in the system.

The extension follows negotiations at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), and the signing of the direction to that effect by employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi.

“With the lockdown for some industries extended to September 15, it only makes sense for us to continue to shield workers from the worst effects of the pandemic by extending the relief payments, which have placed much-needed cash into the hands of workers in this country,” Nxesi said.

Business for SA (B4SA), a social partner in the process, said it appeared that the extension of Ters would last until the state of disaster ended, but final confirmation on funding availability for that was awaited.

The national state of disaster, already extended to September 15, is expected to be extended for another month.

The majority of the economy reopened when the country moved to level 2 of the risk-adjusted strategy last month, however, some sectors remain closed as SA’s borders remain closed.

The scheme was initially supposed to cover three months, from April to June, and was one of the main pillars of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s R500bn relief package to shield workers and protect some economic activity with the country facing the biggest GDP contraction in almost a century.

Last week, the UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping and senior management were suspended pending a forensic investigation into issues with Ters payments.

The employment and labour department said that, due to the extension, the UIF will continue to receive applications for March to end-July until September 15, but no further applications shall be accepted beyond that date.

The receipt of Covid-19 Ters benefit applications for August to September 15 will close at the end of October and no further applications will be accepted beyond that date.

The UIF has paid more than R41bn to more than 9.5-million workers.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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