The Unemployment Insurance Fund has said nearly half the applications it received for coronavirus-related claims by last week were duplicates, amid concerns from organised labour that the cover was not reaching enough vulnerable workers during the national lockdown. 

Spokesperson for the UIF Lungelo Mkamba said the lockdown was an extraordinary situation, and while the Fund is operating with skeleton staff, it is “doing its best under the circumstances”, through electronic platforms, to process all claims at speed.

But it has received thousands of applications, many of which are duplications of previous applications. 

Others, said Mkamba, do not meet the requirements. Of the applications received so far, just over 40% are being approved. 

“As of Monday 13 April 2020, we have received approximately 39 000 Covid-19 claims, of which 16 000 were duplicates. 23 000 did not the requirements and emails have been sent the applicants. 16 000 claims are currently in various stages of the approval processes,” Mkamba said.

The UIF buffers the impact of unemployment through contributions occupants make while they are gainfully employed. President Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africans earlier this month that the UIF had paid out over R350 million in general benefits.

In tandem with the Compensation Fund, it offers compensation to workers who lose a job or the ability to work due to occupational injuries and disease.

Increased capacity

To deal with the flood of applications, Mkamba said the UIF had increased capacity with 50 agents from work seeker’s network, Harambee, to assist with telephonic enquiries, and four officials from each province would assist with processing of normal online claims.

“PwC has also assisted with human resources, while the Banking Association of South Africa is helping us with processing payments. We have also clinched a deal with Vodacom for our clients to use our uFiling System without incurring any charges,” Mkamba said.

But unions have previously expressed concern that the payouts are only reaching a fraction of the workers who will ultimately need assistance due to the impact of Covid-19. The Congress of South African Trade Unions said it was worried about a lack of awareness of UIF benefits among employees who are vulnerable to job losses due to the lockdown.

Increase in uptake

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ parliamentary liaison officer Matthew Parks has since said there was an increase in Covid-19 disbursement, from R17 million a day at beginning of lockdown up to R120 million in disbursements in Covid-19.

“It looks like it’s a significant increase in the uptake, which is not great, because you don’t want people to end up unemployed at a time like this, but it shows that there is some form of cover for vulnerable workers,” said Parks.

Parks said he remained concerned that awareness among workers and employers remained a challenge, as it meant benefits would not reach every employee that needed that and employers would resort to retrenchments instead of opting for salary cover.

“We have been getting frequent reports. It points to the communication capacity and the challenges there that people have been experiencing. We are worried that many people are not aware of the fund, meaning that employers may opt to retrench workers instead of getting salary cover,” he said.

The lockdown, declared by government in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus – along with the overall economic impact of the pandemic itself – are expected to deal a heavy blow to the South African economy, which was already in recession before the outbreak.

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