Maverick Citizen

Unemployed & Unpaid

Labour department urged to include unregistered domestic workers in UIF

There are one million domestic workers in South Africa, most of whom are women. About 600,000 domestic workers have been registered with the UIF. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Esa Alexander)

Many domestic workers are unable to access Unemployment Insurance Funds because their employers didn’t register them for UIF. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute has written to the Department of Employment and Labour recommending that domestic workers be declared as UIF contributors.

A number of interventions have been put in place to assist people who have lost their source of income due to the lockdown. Domestic workers have been left in limbo because their employers did not register them for UIF.

A week ago the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) sent a letter to the Department of Employment and Labour recommending that “the Commissioner of the UIF exercise his discretion, in terms of section 45 of the Unemployment Insurance Act 2001 (UI Act), and deem domestic workers as contributors for purposes of the Act to enable them to benefit from the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Section 45 of the Unemployment Insurance Act allows the commissioner of the UIF to “deem a person to be a contributor for purposes of this Act if it appears that the person should have received benefits in terms of this Act but, because of circumstances beyond the control of that person, is not entitled to benefits”.

Employers can apply to the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) if they’ve temporarily laid off their employees, placed them on unpaid leave or can’t afford to pay their full salaries.

However, employees need to be registered with the UIF to benefit from this.

On 28 April 2020, the minister of employment and labour, Thulas Nxesi, announced that employers who had not registered their employees for UIF could do so in order for them to benefit from the temporary relief funds.

This was on condition that the employer would pay the debt to the UIF when they were able to.

In SERI’s letter, they point out that their clients, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union and their members, were concerned that their employers would not use this opportunity to register them for UIF.

“They are concerned that the solution presented by the department is dependent upon the cooperation of their employers who do not necessarily have an interest in making sure that domestic workers benefit from the Ters Fund,” reads the letter.

Those who have applied for UIF for their employees claim that the website is beset with problems.

In this Daily Maverick article, employers shared stories of how the UIF website had crashed and how they got little assistance from the UIF’s call centre.

“To make matters worse, for various reasons not of their making, many employers have been locked out of their UIF uFiling profiles. They cannot get help because the UIF is completely overwhelmed, and more often than not phone calls and emails to the fund go unanswered,” said Michael Cardo, the DA’s shadow minister for employment and labour.

SERI points this out in their letter, “we are instructed by our clients whose employers have registered them for UIF that attempts by their employers to access the Ters Fund have been unsuccessful”.

To add to domestic workers’ problems, only 20% of domestic workers have been registered for UIF, wrote SERI.

There are one million domestic workers in South Africa, most of whom are women. About 600,000 domestic workers have been registered with the UIF.

Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance carried out a survey of about 600 domestic workers, and 79% of those surveyed said that they were not registered with the UIF.

According to Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance’s report, “most households have not registered their [domestic] workers for UIF because they did not think it was worthwhile or did not want the hassle. Now domestic workers and their families are paying the price for their employers’ non-compliance with labour law.”

The Unemployment Insurance Act allows the minister and the Unemployment Fund board to declare a group of people UIF contributors.

SERI is recommending that this is done for domestic workers during the State of Disaster.

With the easing of lockdown allowing live-in domestic workers and caregivers to return to work, many others will only be able to return to work at Level 2.

With domestic workers not scheduled to return to the economy until Level 2 restrictions are in place, many months of hunger and suffering are ahead for hundreds of thousands of women and their dependents if the department of labour does not act expeditiously,” wrote Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance. DM 

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