In a bid to enhance employer compliance and empower workers, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Congress of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU) held a meeting on 10 July 2023 at Bolivia Lodge in Polokwane. The gathering aimed to strengthen the relationship between the two organizations and establish a bottom-up approach that would enable workers to hold employers accountable and drive up compliance.
The meeting was attended by prominent representatives, including provincial COSATU Secretary Hangwani Mashao and his Deputy Lesiba Monyaki, as well as 100 delegates from various affiliated unions such as the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Clothing and Textile, Communication Workers Union (CWU), South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), South African Medical Association Trade Union (SAMATU), and the Agricultural Food and Allied Democratic Workers Union (AFADWU).
During his address to the delegates, UIF Commissioner Teboho Maruping emphasized the need for collaborative efforts between organized labor and the UIF to maximize compliance. Maruping highlighted that employer non-compliance is a significant obstacle for workers seeking benefits in the Limpopo province.
“The UIF is a social security agency that assists contributing workers and their beneficiaries in their time of financial need. Since COSATU and its members are on the ground and closer to worker issues, it is imperative that we strengthen relations, as this will ensure that education, information, and advice about UIF benefits, processes, platforms, as well as worker rights, are available in the workplace,” said Maruping.
To facilitate the bottom-up approach, shop stewards will serve as UIF information focal points for workers. They will be responsible for sharing information that empowers workers to check their registration and declaration status with the UIF using their mobile phones at any time. In cases where discrepancies are identified, shop stewards will engage employers for necessary corrections.
Maruping urged organized labor to share the UIF’s Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code (134843#) with workers. This code allows workers to check if their employers have registered them and if their declarations are up to date before submitting a claim to the UIF. Workers are encouraged to seek correction from employers or report non-compliant employers to a labor inspector at any labor center. The USSD service is free of charge and accessible from any type of mobile phone.
Furthermore, Commissioner Maruping announced that the UIF will launch additional platforms throughout the year to make it easier, cheaper, and faster for clients, particularly those in rural areas, to claim benefits and access UIF services from the comfort of their homes.
The meeting also provided an update on matters related to the Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Covid-19 TERS). Maruping revealed that a total of R1.7 billion had been disbursed to 423,303 workers in the Limpopo province to support their livelihoods during and after the pandemic. The top 10 sectors that received the majority of the funds were Personal Services, Trade, Mining, Construction, Professional Services, Agriculture, Education, Iron, Air, and Food.
In a bid to ensure proper disbursement of the Covid-19 TERS funds, the UIF is conducting audits of companies in Limpopo and across the country. Mr. Smiso Nkosi, a manager in the UIF Commissioner’s Office, confirmed that forensic auditors are diligently investigating to ensure that the correct amounts were paid to workers in a timely manner. The audits have already led to arrests, including the conviction of businesswoman Treasure Moremi, who was found guilty of defrauding the UIF of Covid-19 TERS funds and subsequently sentenced to 10 years of direct imprisonment.
Hangwani Mashao, COSATU Provincial Secretary, expressed deep concern about non-compliant employers and their detrimental impact on workers. Mashao reiterated organized labor’s commitment to working with the UIF to protect workers’ rights and welfare.
The meeting concluded with a consensus that the UIF and organized labor would maintain regular interactions to educate workers, track compliance progress, and promptly address any challenges faced by workers in the province.
The bottom-up approach, facilitated by shop stewards and enhanced worker empowerment, is expected to drive up employer compliance not only in Limpopo but throughout the country. Workers will have a better understanding of their entitlements and be empowered to claim their rights and hold employers accountable for their UIF contributions, registration, and declaration status. This collaborative effort between the UIF and COSATU aims to ensure that businesses fulfill their obligations to workers and comply with the law, enabling workers to access benefits when needed.
As the UIF continues its mission to protect workers and enhance compliance, it remains dedicated to providing various platforms and services that make claiming benefits easier and more accessible, particularly for workers in rural areas. The ongoing partnership between the UIF and organized labor serves as a strong foundation for education, support, and progress in workers’ rights and welfare across South Africa.