People queue to apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NARDUS ENGELBRECHT
People queue to apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NARDUS ENGELBRECHT

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will open and begin processing applications for the extended wage protection scheme for workers next week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week during his address to the nation that the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters), which was set up to help workers affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, would be extended for one more month to October 15.

At the same time he announced that SA’s borders would open to all tourists and that trading hours for the sale of alcohol would return to normal.

This came after concerns were raised by business and labour after it emerged that the government would not be extending the Ters, despite the state of disaster still in place and workers in sectors such as tourism still affected.

The Ters benefit was introduced in March and was initially to run for three months, from April to June. The scheme was then extended by the government from August 16 to mid-September.

SA went into a hard level 5 lockdown in late March, which brought economic activity to a near standstill. Though it has since moved to level 1, more than 2-million jobs were lost in the second quarter of 2020 when the economy shrank 51% on a seasonally adjusted and annualised basis.

SA’s official unemployment rate rose to 30.8% in the third quarter, reaching its highest level since the survey began, according to Stats SA.

The Stats SA latest quarterly labour force survey suggested jobs numbers would not bounce back as robustly, with some economists warning that permanent losses are likely to rise to well over 1-million.

The UIF said that since March, just over R52bn has been disbursed in 11.5-million payments via more than a million employers.

The UIF said it will process applications for the extension term from Monday November 23 until the end of December. No further applications will be accepted after this.

“In keeping with strict governance principles, we will still subject payments to bank verification before releasing the funds into the applicants’ accounts,” acting UIF commissioner Marsha Bronkhorst said.

“The immediate past has taught us that, even under the pandemic, criminals are at large and looking to benefit through nefarious means. We have an obligation to do everything in our power to ensure that funds are not paid into the incorrect accounts.”

The auditor-general, who looked into the scheme, has uncovered alleged fraud and irregularities in the system leading to the suspension of some UIF senior management.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za

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