Employers have been scrambling to submit claims under the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) in a format and manner that meets the ever-changing directives published by the Department of Employment and Labour.
Speaking to Moneyweb before month-end, many enterprises voiced their utter frustration with the bureaucracy, lack of certainty, lack of consistency and lack of access to websites and competent people who can assist them in getting funding from government’s Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).
“It has been horrific,” says businesswoman and restaurateur Marina Appelbaum. “We know we are not going to be paid in time for our staff to get their money. We know. It is outrageous. We have been paying UIF contributions every month.”
Appelbaum has submitted applications for all 150 staff members no fewer than six times since April 4.
To date she has received one payment of R4 000.
“Just when you feel relieved that something is working you get nothing and they change the process again.”
In the first round, she submitted her claim applications via email. She uploaded hundreds of documents, as required by the department, only to be told that the files containing her employees’ details had to be converted from Excel to a CSV (comma-separated values) file.
When she resubmitted the documents she was told that she should not do so via email, but that everything should be done via the online portal created for Ters applications.
“This process has been hell. It’s like they have too many consultants who keep changing the process because they themselves do not know how it is supposed to work.”
When Appelbaum eventually got through to the call centre to enquire about her application she was told to “just be patient”.
A businesswoman from Centurion who had to secure a loan to pay her 20 staff members at the end of April lambasted a statement from Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi that employers are not doing enough to assist employers to claim UIF benefits.
She said even before the lockdown started they assisted workers in filling in forms that the workers were supposed to email to the UIF. Then the plans changed, and the employer had to submit a mountain of documents to claim on behalf of their employees.
After jumping through all the old and new hoops, her application was rejected.
She sent an email, phoned every possible number. No response. She tried to resubmit her application. After about 20 attempts to gain access to the website, she gave up.
She secured a loan.
“My staff have got no food on the table, they have mortgages to pay and they have kids to support. The process has changed numerous times, and it’s cumbersome. This is new to all of us. If we make a mistake just help us.
“I am angry,” she says. “When they get on television to tell us about their scheme it sounds as if the process is fluid. It sounds like they have the process waxed – but they do not.”
The owner of an estate agency remarks that the constant changes appear to be nothing other than moving the goalposts.
The hassle becomes too much and people just give up, he says.
Those still trying were faced with even more frustration when the UIF website ‘crashed’ two days before the April month-end.
Faith Ngwenya, technical and standards executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa), says the institute was in contact with the UIF commissioner about the inability of its members to gain access to the Ters online application website.
Apparently a file containing a list of all employers whose claims had been processed and who had received payments caused the system to crash.
“Our understanding is that everyone who has submitted claims on behalf of their employees wanted to download the file to ascertain whether their company appeared on the list.”
The file was subsequently removed and the hope is that the system will recover to acceptable levels for employers to gain access.
Ngwenya says Saipa has confirmed with the UIF commissioner that employers can continue with their April claims, even if the applications are only submitted in May.
These will still be paid as per the April claim and will not impact the May payment.
She says some of Saipa’s members are also struggling to understand the formula used by the UIF to calculate the benefit employees will receive in terms of the sliding scale (payments vary between 38% and 60% of the employee’s salary).
“We are still looking into the reasons for the anomalies we have picked up,” she says.