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 updated directives for the extension of the wage protection scheme for workers affected by the Covid-19 lockdown have been signed, paving the way for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to process new claims.

Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi has signed the directives, which were gazetted on Wednesday, the UIF said on Thursday.

Last month President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his state of the nation address that the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) would be extended to March 15. It now covers the period from October 15 2020, when the benefit originally came to an end, until March.

The UIF and social partners met at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) after proposals were tabled by the fund on how Ters would be extended to sectors still affected by Covid-19 lockdown regulations, and also to employees with comorbidities and those older than 60 years who cannot be reasonably accommodated at work.

The UIF said after much deliberation agreement was reached that the extension should cover businesses or establishments in sectors hardest hit by the lockdown such as tourism, liquor, hospitality, conferencing events and activities in related value chains.

“The social partners impressed on us that we need to carefully consider other business activities that get indirectly impacted if the main business they render a service to is not operational,” acting UIF commissioner Marsha Bronkhorst said.

“For example, a bottling supplier in the liquor industry gets affected if production is stopped or reduced by the alcohol manufacturer, and so does the wine or grain farmer who supplies raw material to the manufacturer. So, the invaluable input from social partners has assisted in drawing up the comprehensive list.”

The UIF said according to the new directive signed by the minister the Ters benefit is only applicable to employees who contributed to the fund. Two new payment periods will be covered, the first from October 16 to December 31 2020 and the second from January 1 to March 15 2021.

The online application system to start processing claims for the first payment iteration has already been opened, the fund said.

The UIF has paid out just more than R58bn since March 2020. The initial budget was R40bn, and formed part of the government’s R500bn social and economic relief plan implemented in 2020 when the country entered a hard lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Social partners and the UIF had been negotiating an extension of the scheme at Nedlac for the past few months, but were unable to reach consensus, with the fund proposing that relief be provided to workers through the short-time benefit. However, business and labour were worried about the effect it would have on workers’ UIF credit.

The fund said on Thursday employees who continue to be affected by short-time work, shift rotations, temporary layoffs, and other operational measures related to current economic conditions, but do not work in the specified sectors, could claim relief through the short-time benefit provided for in the UIF Act.

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