DUDU RAMELA: The Unemployment Insurance Fund, the UIF, says it has more than a million outstanding claims on its Covid-19 Temporary Employer Relief Scheme, also known as the Ters portal that stands to be closed by the end of December. That’s if claimants do not attend to the errors on their applications. The Department of Employment and Labour has said that simple errors in the applications are the main reason outstanding claims are yet to be finalised.
Let’s get into it. We’re joined by Makhosonke Buthelezi. He speaks for the UIF. Thank you very much for your time this evening. Let’s talk about the simple yet common errors that are made. What are they?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: Thank you. Just to give you a quick update on the figure, we are now standing at about 700 000, so it’s no longer a million. The common first error, the biggest one, would be the declaration. We have about 444 000 employers that have not been declared with us. That is the first thing that is holding up the processing of the claims.
The second is the bank certifications. The third invalid ID numbers. And then we also have a huge problem with the salaries that were inputted and salaries that were received during lockdown. Remember, you must have not been getting anything during lockdown – or at least maybe half of that. So you’ll find that for a person non-allowed, the system picks up that the person normally earns R10 000, and then the employer will enter that R10 000. That means in our eyes you were earning what you were getting, and you were probably working – so the employer could afford to pay you anyway.
Those are some of the common errors that we want the employers to go back and fix on the portal.
DUDU RAMELA: We went from a million to 700 000 now. Thank you very much for that update. But some claims date back to March 2020; what do you suspect is behind claimants not following up?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: What I’ve observed is that, particularly with your smaller entities, maybe a person works for an NGO (non-governmental organisation) or even generally, if I have to put it that way, with a lot of claims for the first lockdown, which was about three months, people may have gone back to work and given up on following up because things got back to normal and the employers are paying their employees as normal.
Because we still have those claims in the system and because we have obligations against those claims, we urge them to go back – even those who applied in March and are still in their system – and re-apply if they have to, or fix whatever the error message says they need to fix.
DUDU RAMELA: Right. Do you suspect fraud at all?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: No, not at all. There is a possibility, but we have since tightened up the system in such a way that any fraudulent activity is detected immediately. So if there are those that are in (there) and there might be some fraudulent activity we will be able to pick it up, because even now there are some that I’ve just mentioned, where an employer has reflected that Makhosonke earned R10 000 before Covid and Ters, and they put in the same salary. Obviously those are exceptions that we really look at very closely, because it may happen that they were not really under distress. They could afford to pay the salaries.
So those ones are exceptions, and we do look at them closely. But there are instances where there really is a genuine mistake by the employer.
DUDU RAMELA: In trying to find some of the other reasons why employers would not actually take on this journey, Cas Coovadia of Business Unity South Africa has suggested that the process is tedious. Your response?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: To some degree it would be tedious, especially for somebody who is not really tech-savvy and used to doing these things on the portal. That is what I noticed when we started opening the system; it could be tedious. But at the same time you do have a whole lot of employers who have people assisting them – the bookkeepers and accountants and so forth. In my view that is where the problem is, because you will find in some instances that the information that the accountant has about the employees is outdated. That is why in some instances you will find that we have paid people who have passed on. It’s because the accountant has information that is outdated if you compare it with what the actual employer who died had.
I’m saying they do have people who are assisting them, but I wouldn’t deny that some would view it as very tedious.
DUDU RAMELA: We have a comment from a listener or a reader, if you will, stating that that for decades they’ve been paying UIF, but when he or she needed to make a claim, their status was deemed ‘Siyaya’ – what does that mean?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: Siyaya is system, a database. It’s called Siyaya. That is where we register all the employees. So, when I’m talking about the declarations, it means you declare on Siyaya. It means the 444 employees who are not declared are not on Siyaya. So we cannot find you on Siyaya. Siyaya will tell us the employment history, even where you were you employed before, and things like salaries and whether you were terminated or you were not terminated. So it’s basically where our database is.
DUDU RAMELA: Just a final question to you. In terms of claims for the workers affected by the unrest-relief scheme, where do we sit with that following the disturbing scenes that we saw around the country, starting in KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of South Africa?
MAKHOSONKE BUTHELEZI: We’ve received about 7 900 claims so far from the two provinces combined. So part of the process that we’re engaged in is the verification of those claims, and part of that verification involved us going literally to the business to really assess if it was affected or damaged. That’s the first thing.
Secondly we also cross-check with databases from Sasria (the South African Special Risk Insurance Association) because some of the claims that are submitted via Sasria do take pay for a portion of the employees. So we are trying to avoid double-dipping and we also cross-check with the database from the DTIC (Department of Trade, Industry and Competition), because the DTIC also offers some form of a business support to those businesses.
So it’s taking quite a long time for that process. But we are hopeful that by the end of next week we should have started paying already.
DUDU RAMELA: Makhosonke Buthelezi speaks for the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Thank you very much for your time this evening.