Consumer Watch: Haven’t registered your domestic for UIF yet?

11 May 2020 by Georgina Crouth

A lack of education, poor communication and a frustrating administrative process are discouraging employers of domestic workers from registering their staff for the unemployment insurance fund.

At a time when many domestics are unable to earn a living, or have lost their jobs, non-compliance with labour laws is preventing workers from being able to claim UIF benefits.

The good news is that if you haven’t yet registered your domestic worker, it’s not too late.

On April 29, domestic workers’ alliance Izwi published the results of its survey on UIF compliance. The alliance surveyed 602 Gauteng respondents via WhatsApp and Facebook groups, to understand how many domestic workers were on unpaid leave, and how many had access to UIF relief.

It noted that most domestic workers would not receive wages, resulting in more hunger and evictions.

Of the respondents, mostly from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Malawi, only 37% said they were getting full wages during the Covid-19 lockdown. Less than 10% of domestic workers were on paid leave, 27% on unpaid leave, and 27% on leave but do not know whether they would be paid for April.

An estimated 40000 domestic workers have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Most live-in staff said they were not getting evenings, weekends or public holidays off. Many were struggling with insufficient funds for food and rent at the beginning of last month.

Izwi said there were more than a million domestic workers, 95% of whom were women, most were the primary breadwinners for families.

“Remarkably, 79% of those surveyed are not registered for UIF, and an additional 11% don’t know if they are registered (which means they likely are not). This aligns with academic estimates that only 20% of domestic workers are registered for UIF,” Izwi said, noting that most households have not registered their workers for UIF because they did not think it was worthwhile or did not want the hassle.

“Now domestic workers and their families are paying the price for their employers’ non-compliance with labour law.”

Izwi said it was flooded with requests for assistance from women who did not have money to buy food for their families. With most domestic staff (unless they are live-in, or care for the elderly or children) not scheduled to return to work until Level 2 restrictions are in place, “many months of hunger and suffering are ahead for hundreds of thousands of women and their dependants if the Department of Labour does not act expeditiously”.

Amy Tekié, the alliance co-founder, said by the time level 4 restrictions were announced, they started seeing a lot of retrenchments and dismissals. “in most cases, without due process”.

“Domestic work is such an undervalued sector and they earn 75% of the national minimum wage, so they’re being taken advantage of,” she said.

“Traditionally it’s such an informal sector that you don’t think of yourself as an employer – they’re just nannies or cleaners – so people don’t read up on the labour law. Maybe it’s time to hold employers accountable. It’s not that complicated. If old people can be paying UIF for workers for decades, anyone can.”

Yet the system has been plagued with administrative issues and with the Covid-19 lockdown, the call centre has been overwhelmed and online support has ground to a halt.

Estelle Carsens, the founder of Domestic Support, which assists employers with their household staff’s administration, said the process could be frustrating.

“A lot of employers just throw their hands up in the air. But if you know how it works, it’s easy and user-friendly. Communications and training on educating employers are the problem – the Labour Department just doesn’t do that. There’s zero training.”

Carsens said most households did not realise that if you had staff working more than 24 hours in a month, they must be registered.

The good news is that you can still register your domestic staff. Companies such as Domestic Support and UIF Solutions are able to sort out arrears and help submit a claim with the fund, including the temporary employer-employee relief scheme (Ters) benefit, which is a special benefit created to provide emergency relief to employers and staff affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s not a difficult process: It’s simple and can be done within a day,” Carsens said. “But if you’re doing it yourself, you need to be first in line for the Covid-19 hotline call centre. It can be very frustrating for employers and if you’ve locked yourself out of the system, you won’t receive any online support, so you can’t get back into the process. Ufiling is working but they don’t have enough people to help support the call centre.”

The Ters hotline number is 08000 30007.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at consumer@inl.co.za, tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

Source: IOL at https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/gauteng/consumer-watch-havent-registered-your-domestic-for-uif-yet-47793530