Talks to extend relief payments from UIF to affected workers, Newsline

JOHANNESBURG – GOVERNMENT and business yesterday resumed negotiations about extending relief payments for affected workers from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) due to economic headwinds of the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The UIF confirmed that talks on the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) had resumed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in Rosebank, Joburg.

UIF spokesperson Lungelo Mkamba said discussions between social partners had been restarted after the scheme which has mitigated the workers’ plight came to an end in October last year.

“I can confirm that discussions are taking place within the Nedlac process and once this is finalised, it will be communicated,” Mkamba said.

“Covid-19 Ters payments for previous periods from April to September 15, 2020 are, however, still ongoing, as corrections are done by applicants and we reprocess the claims.”

The government has often been criticised for missing the opportunity to announce a support package for businesses hard hit by the restrictions when President Cyril Ramaphosa extended the State of the National Disaster on Monday.

The prolonged lockdown has been devastating for hundreds of businesses, many of them in the tourism, hospitality and liquor industries, as they are either unable to operate fully.

Mkamba said the UIF has a project plan to finalise these claims while continuing with payments for the September 16 to October 15 period, which commenced in December.

He said as of January 8, 2021, the UIF had paid R56.7 billion to 13.2 million workers from 1.1 million employer applications since the first lockdown in March as a relief to workers affected by Covid-19.

This figure included over R2bn paid to 491 603 foreign nationals from 96 153 applications by employers.

Business Unity South Africa (Busa) said it remained concerned about the economic impact of extending the lockdown to February 15 and the total ban on liquor sales. Busa chief executive Cas Coovadia said business appreciated the delicate balance between health and livelihoods and was equally concerned about the increase in Covid19 infections and death rates.

“Busa remains very concerned about the economic impact on the liquor, tourism and hospitality sectors as a result of the total ban on liquor sales,” Coovadia said.

“There is also a knock-on effect on the bottling industry.”

BNP Paribas’ senior economist Jeff Schultz said South Africa’s recovery in 2021 would disappoint most expectations.

“Fundamental to our thinking is that many of the structural weaknesses that pushed the economy into recession before the pandemic will scupper the pace of recovery,” Schultz said.

“Added to this is our expectation that the damage done to animal spirits and fixed investment will take longer to repair, while a successful vaccine roll-out to the broad populational ready seems to be hitting some snags at the same time as the country faces a severe second wave and new strain of infections, risking a return to stricter lockdown regulations in the first quarter,” Schultz said.