Domestic workers slip through the cracks in UIF

| Ben Stanwix
GroundUp archive image of a domestic worker with her employer’s child. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Only 50% of domestic workers in the Western Cape are registered for Unemployment Insurance, according to official statistics. GroundUp tested the system to find out why employers don’t register their workers.

By law, employers must register all employees who work more than 24 hours a month with the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

But according to the most recently available Quarterly Labour Force Survey (from the last quarter of 2014), less than 50% of domestic workers in the Western Cape report being registered for Unemployment Insurance. And hardly any of the former domestic workers who were unemployed at the time of the survey reported receiving UI benefits.

Employers must contribute 1% of the domestic worker’s wage to UIF. Two forms must be completed: a UI8 form with the employer’s own details, and a UI 19 form with the details of the employee. These are downloadable from the Department of Labour’s (DoL) website and can also be obtained from a Labour Centre. Completed forms can be faxed, emailed, returned to a Labour Centre, or posted to the UIF. The turn-around time for registration, according to the UIF, is supposed to be 7 working days. Once registration is complete, payments can be made online with relative ease through uFiling.

But a major problem with the registration process is the impossibility of registering either online or by telephone. Both options are listed on the DoL’s website as being “NOT CURRENTLY ACTIVE”, and have been inactive for some time.

UIF Communications Deputy Director Muzi Mkhwanazi, explained that the online registration system had been discontinued in 2007 because employers filled in incorrect information, and the UIF “had to assign officials on a daily basis just to check that the information was captured correctly”.

Telephonic registration had been stopped, he said, because “duplications occurred because of human mistakes, and as a result incorrect information was also captured”.

GroundUp attempted a test registration via email on 17 February 2015. So far no confirmation has been received of receipt of documents or any other communication regarding registration.

For domestic workers who have lost their jobs, the requirements for claiming unemployment insurance benefits are more complex, and depend crucially on workers producing their bank statements to prove loss of employment income. Not all domestic workers have bank accounts and many are paid in cash, making it very difficult if not impossible to claim.

Domestic worker wages are among the lowest in the country. The minimum wage for a 45 hour week is R476.68 a week or R2,065.47 a month in urban areas and R418.32 a week or R1,812.57 a month in the rest of the country. But actual wages may be much lower: median wages for domestic workers in the Western Cape were only R1,600 in 2013.

The difficulties of registration and claims may go some way to explaining the UIF’s current surplus of R72.3 billion in reserves - money which could be used to ease the job transitions of poor workers.

TOPICS:  Labour

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