UIF 'open to' Covid-19 grant extension, but don't get in line just yet

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Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi during a media briefing.
Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi during a media briefing.
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  • An extension to the UIF's Temporary Employer Employee Relief Scheme is a possibility, but only if found feasible. 
  • Also, progress has been made on the Special Investigating Unit's probe into UIF-TERS-related corruption and hearings were beginning on Friday.  
  • In addition to processing outstanding issues and TERS claims, there was a sharp rise in normal retrenchments and the UIF was taking care of responding to those claims as well.

The Department of Employment and Labour and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) told Parliament on Friday that it was open to further extensions to the Temporary Employer Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) if feasible. 

But for the time being, the extension remains extended to 15 March.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 11 February that the Covid-19 TERS benefit will be extended until 15 March 2021 for those sectors that have not been able to operate throughout the national lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The department and UIF delegation also told Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour that progress has been made on the Special Investigating Unit's (SIU) probe into UIF-TERS-related corruption and hearings were beginning on Friday.

Labour and Employment director general Thobile Lamati said the SIU finalised the supply chain management investigation and recommended that charges be brought against seven officials, four middle managers and three senior managers.

"Charge sheets have been compiled and handed to the implicated officials. Presiding officers and prosecutors have been appointed for all the middle managers and one senior manager. Prosecuting officials are appointed for all senior managers," said Lamati.

Lamati said the disciplinary hearings started on Friday and will run until 26 February and all the suspended officials - including the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner, chief directors responsible for operations and the director for supply chain management - will remain on suspension pending the finalisation of the SIU investigation and life style audits.

Asked about the possibility of extending the UIF-TERS payments beyond the announced date by Ramaphosa in last week's SONA, Lamati said the department would not rule this out, but the final decision will be made after a thorough assessment of affordability.

"For the time being, 15 March is the extension of TERS ... but we are prepared to look into a further extension," Lamati said.

Sharp rise in retrenchments

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said while there was a high demand for the assistance UIF offers through TERS and calls for the extension were growing, the fund needed to protect itself from collapse.

"[With] this decision announced by the president, we had to do a lot of calculations and make an assessment of what can be done. The hospitality industry is a serious aspect, but we had to protect the fund and ensure it does not collapse like [it did] in 2008," Nxesi said.

Nxesi said while the department and the UIF was are processing outstanding issues and TERS claims, there was a sharp rise in normal retrenchments and the UIF was taking care of responding to those claims as well.

Acting UIF commissioner Marsha Bronkhorst said as the fund continued to probe its TERS transactions during the course of the pandemic, it was yet to find evidence that UIF officials were colluding with employers to withhold TERS funds from employees.

"In terms of the follow the money project, we have not seen any evidence of collusion between employers and UIF officials in terms of employers who may try to avoid passing on payments to employees. It's early days yet, but we have not found evidence of such in the process," said Bronkhorst.

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