Employees on UIF inconsistencies and financial woes during the lockdown

People queue at the Department of Labour in Cape Town
People queue at the Department of Labour in Cape Town
Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images

For many families, life under lockdown hasn’t been easy. With retrenchments and lay-offs due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people’s finances have taken a hit.

In an address to the country on Wednesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that some businesses and individuals have not had any income for over 80 days. Many others have not received the relief promised by the government.

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Since the inception of the Unemployed Insurance Fund’s (UIF) Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (Ters) in April, it has reportedly processed more than 200 000 valid claims from employers with a large sum of employees benefitting from the relief fund. In May there were reports of arrangements to pay funds directly into employees’ bank accounts.

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Victoria Mtshali (51), who works as a cook at a restaurant in Cape Town, says that as the primary breadwinner, this has been extremely stressful. “At the end of March my salary was affected because we worked less as people stopped eating out. That's where it all began,” Victoria says.

"That month I got paid under R4 000, which was half of my usual salary. It might seem like a lot, but it really isn’t. If you take into consideration my youngest child’s school fees, groceries and things like electricity and water we still need to pay – where do you even begin? How do you decide which is more important when all are necessary for our survival?” she said.

"'The UIF money has disappeared’. That's all [my employer] said and I went into panic. It had been a while since we had received the money we are used to and already there was a delay as nothing had come in at the end of May. Even now I’m still waiting," she says.

“My frustration is not with my employer but with the government. When they asked us to close down we listened because we feared for our health, but also because they promised to take care of us financially. But now they are not doing so. Ngibuhlungu mtanam (I’m in pain, my child),” she says.

“This month I’m sure it will be even less, or it won’t come in at all. There’s really no certainty.”

Chad Zikhali* (27) is currently unemployed and is in desperate need of the relief to pay rent and buy essentials.

“You might as well say I’m unemployed, this past month my employer paid me just R67.” Chad is a gym instructor in Cape Town. In level 3 and the recently announced advanced level 3, gyms are still not allowed to open leaving many in this industry temporarily unemployed.

“Honestly, when the message came in, I was shocked. First it was the laughter, which slowly grew into frustration because I’ve been at the company for four years,” Chad says. "Even the UIF is inconsistent and it frustrates me because I need to pay rent, get groceries and essentials. But it still covers the shortfall and helps me get things done since my usual salary is currently out of the picture.

“I really thought my job was secure, that there was potential for me to grow in the company until this pandemic hit. Now I just don’t know,” he says.

The department of labour’s Twitter account has been inundated with questions from South Africans. Many said they were unable to reach the department, raising issues of unanswered emails and phone calls, to which the UIF has requested they be patient as their systems are overwhelmed.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of interviewee.