Calls by the embattled tourism and hospitality industry for the government’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) to be reinstated have finally been heeded.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday night that the scheme, which came to an end in October, will be extended for select affected industries until March 15, 2021.
While he did not mention the industries that are set to benefit from the extension, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) is confident that the sector will be included.
In welcoming the announcement, TBCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said that the tourism industry has been one of the worst affected sectors, with many businesses not being able to fully operate while some remain closed.
Other sectors, such as the liquor industry, that have been affected by the recent increased lockdown restrictions under alert Level 3 (which were in place for just over a month due to the second Covid-19 wave) also stand to benefit from the Ters extension.
From late December to earlier February, all liquor production and sales were banned as part of heightened Level 3 rules. Access to beaches was also banned, affecting tourism hot spots, while the 8pm curfew and on-site sales ban on alcohol also impacted the restaurant and broader tourism industries.
Besides tourism industry bodies such as the TBCSA calling for UIF/Ters to be reinstated, the Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa), the Western Cape provincial government and labour unions have also been very vocal about extending the scheme especially to the hard-hit tourism and hospitality industry.
“As we rebuild our economy in the midst of a pandemic, it is necessary that we continue – within our means – to provide support to those businesses and individuals that continue to be most affected,” Ramaphosa noted in his Sona speech.
He said that businesses in several sectors were still struggling and many families continue to suffer as the job market slowly recovers.
“Over the last few months, we have had ongoing discussions with our social partners in business and labour, who proposed an extension of some of the social and economic support,” he added.
“We have decided to extend the Covid-19 Ters benefit until March 15, 2021, only for those sectors that have not been able to operate,” Ramaphosa said.
“The conditions of this extension and the sectors to be included will be announced after consultations with social partners at Nedlac,” he explained.
The president also announced government’s decision to extend the period for the Special Covid-19 grant of R350 by a further three months.
“This [grant] has proven to be an effective and efficient short-term measure to reduce the immediate impact on the livelihoods of poor South Africans,” he said.
Tshivhengwa said the extension of Ters is “good news” for the tourism industry, which has “been at the forefront of calls for the scheme to be extended”.
“Arguably the worst affected industry, the tourism and hospitality sector has actively been advocating at Nedlac for Ters relief to be extended,” he reiterated.
“The recent more stringent lockdown restrictions, which saw the banning of beach tourism, alcohol sales and a tighter curfew all impacted the tourism and hospitality sector. Restrictions and bans may have been eased, but the industry is still reeling and needs all the support it can get,” said Tshivhengwa.
“For example, business tourism is still at a virtual standstill with events, conferences and other meetings not allowed. Several major hotels and conference centres remain closed. Employees in the tourism sector need urgent relief. Ters coverage will assist both affected employees and businesses in the sector,” he added.
Sisa Ntshona, CEO of the national destination promotion agency South African Tourism, was loath to confirm whether the tourism sector is now in-line for extended Ters relief.
“I can’t comment directly on Ters until it is discussed further at Nedlac and the relevant ministers confirm which sectors will be covered. However, I’ve got a warm feeling about it,” he told Moneyweb following the Sona speech on Thursday night.
“Extended Ters support for the tourism industry will be welcome, especially after a difficult December/January holiday period amid tighter lockdown restrictions,” Ntshona added.
Wendy Alberts, CEO of Rasa, hailed the Ters announcement as “brilliant”. She said the association has also been lobbying hard for Ters benefits to be extended for restaurants.
“I have said categorically since December 28, when we went back into Level 3, that it does not make sense to have harsher lockdowns without Ters support for sectors such as the restaurant industry,” she noted.
“Most of the industry’s staff had gone on ‘short pay’ and we were on rotational staff, so it meant that the staff certainly needed to have access to Ters and further UIF. The delay in getting this [Ters extension] may be problematic as it comes six weeks later and is only until mid-March,” added Alberts.
She said Rasa would push for Ters benefits to be extended further, possibly for as long as Covid-19 state of disaster rules were in place, which restricted restaurants in being fully operational.