Communication channels beefed up at Department of Labour after public outcry

15 may 2020

“Why is nobody responding? Is the Department of Labour ignoring us?” was one Tweet directed at the Department of Labour.

Following public outrage, the Department of Labour has taken action to improve communication between government, and UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) and TERS (Temporary Employer Relief Schemes) applicants.

The names and contact details of 20 high ranking officials were made public on May 14. Spokesman Teboho Tehjane says South Africans may share their UIF and TERS related queries with these members of the department’s Inspection and Enforcement Services unit. He promised the unit, which includes provincial chief inspectors, will offer swift assistance.

Before this announcement, the department’s seemingly faulty communication channels and poor or non-existing feedback had South Africans at their wits’ end. This is according to emails from more than 100 citizens whose complaints ended up with Caxton Local Media’s Irma Green and Helene Eloff.

Green is the national Group editor of Caxton Local Media and Eloff its legal adviser. While some reported that they obtained Green and Eloff’s details from the department’s website (it is still not clear whether, how or why their details appeared there), others said they tried to get the media involved out of pure desperation after their queries and complaints had allegedly been ignored for days.

The frustration started when South Africa was placed in lockdown on March 27. South Africans were instructed to remain indoors to limit the spread of Covid-19. Only essential service providers kept working and the country’s economy received a heavy blow. For thousands of South Africans, UIF and TERS funding would have been their only income during the lockdown period. When many received partial or no payment, hordes of claimants took to e-mail and social media demanding feedback. They reported that, save for automatic e-mail responses, their pleas remained unanswered.

“How must we buy food? We have nothing. What will I feed my children?” one desperate parent asked via e-mail.

“Why is nobody responding? Is the Department of Labour ignoring us?” another Tweeted.

Government never responded.

The chaos was not limited to correspondence between the governing and the governed. On the South African Government’s official website, the wrong communication details were provided for the private secretary of deputy labour minister Boitumelo Elizabeth Moloi. When dialling the number, Caxton Local Media reached a Department of Justice employee. “I have been receiving so many calls and tried to tell the labour department they have the wrong number on the website. I was unable to get hold of them,” the woman said. According to Thejane, this error is being fixed.

Employees are not the only ones experiencing frustration. Tina Angelos, group director of WTFM Investments (Pty) Ltd, spoke to Caxton Local Media. “There is extreme pressure on the part of employers with regards to flaws in the system,” she said. Angelos’ summary of the problems included that online platforms do not allow applicants to track the status of their applications, and the fact that problems could only be reported via e-mail.

Angelos added that Ufiling, an online system where UIF registration and applications are done, does not provide sufficient information on claim payments. “Registration is not seamless. Although some companies only received a portion of the UIF funds due to them, they were listed as “paid employers” on the UIF website and in media statements. Where partial funding was made available, that would result in a limited number of employees being paid.”

According to Angelos, the UIF would then report to employees via the TERS website. Reasons for non-payment included “employee not declared by employer” – even when this was not the case. In many cases, applications were submitted but not successfully processed.

To have this fixed, the TERS site instructs employers to redo their application documents in the format of a CSV file (which is an Excel file saved into a different format called CSV). They are then instructed to remove the paid employees from the list and resubmit to declarations@labour.gov.za and covid19compliance@labour.gov.za. These submissions must be accompanied by a 3-month salary payroll.

“It is unfortunate that UFiling and UIF TERS are not automatically updated to present employers with one point of e-commerce submission versus multiple sites. Let’s see what happens now. I will definitely keep my eyes on future developments,” Angelos concluded.

Source: Lowvelder at https://lowvelder.co.za/623912/communication-channels-beefed-up-at-department-of-labour-after-public-outcry/