Various organisations have expressed their unhappiness about the announcement by Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi that the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) benefits for employees who are still unable to return to work due to the Covid-19 Level 1 lockdown regulations, will only be paid until 15 September 2020 with no further extension.
“This unilateral act by the Minister flies in the face of a notice in the Government Gazette of 7 September, which indicates that the TERS benefits will be extended until the end of the National State of Disaster, which is currently applicable until 15 November 2020,” says Gerhard Papenfus, chief executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA).
He says this was confirmed by a media statement by the department on 30 September 2020 and calls the minister and department’s denial that this is indeed the current state of affairs “quite unsettling”.
“This about-turn by the Minister, after a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), which has no constitutional, legislative or executive authority, is unlawful. As long as the empowering regulation is in force, the department has to comply with it.”
Papenfus says if the department wants to stop TERS payments, it will have to “repeal the prevailing notice in the Government Gazette first.
“Whether that can be done lawfully is questionable, especially in view of the fact that many employers, on the basis of the Regulations, have paid their employees, who are unable to work as a result of the lockdown regulations, in advance.”
Business for South Africa (B4SA) has also expressed its concern that the NCCC has decided not to extend the TERS benefit, although President Cyril Ramaphosa had committed that the benefit would be available until the end of the State of Disaster.
“There are still a significant number of employees who are vulnerable and whose employers are unable to implement special measures to ensure their safe return to work, or who are unable to return to work on a full time basis due to current government restrictions under the State of Disaster.”
According to B4SA, the social partners and the UI Fund have been engaged in extensive investigations regarding the affordability of extending the benefits at the suggestion of Nedlac and government.
“Those investigations indicate that there are sufficient liquid funds available (R51 billion) in the UI Fund to maintain benefits until the end of December.”
B4SA says on Thursday evening last week there was still consensus between the social partners and the UI Fund that every effort would be made to ensure that this will happen. The investigations found that the UI Fund has a significant amount of liquid investments amounting to R59 billion.
“In ordinary times, these decisions should be made by the minister and director-general of labour, based on consultations with the other social partners. Unfortunately, as has been so often the case over the last seven months of the State of Disaster, they seem to be removed from the decision making.”
B4SA has called on the President to urgently reverse this “ill-advised and irrational decision” to halt the TERS benefit.
“If government believes the remaining Level 1 restrictions are necessary, TERS must be retained. The NCCC decision not to extend the TERS benefit, if left to stand, will have serious negative implications for employers and employees and the economy as a whole,” B4SA said in its statement.