The Department of Labour appears to be struggling to cope with the huge demand for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payments at its Durban central office following the retrenchment of millions of workers due to the Covid-19 lockdown across the country.
Hundreds of people can be seen queuing daily outside the central offices in Masonic Grove and some claim they have repeatedly attempted to apply for UIF, but without success over the past few months.
Several queuing applicants who spoke to The Mercury on condition of anonymity because they fear being victimised, said they were desperate for the money to feed their families. When The Mercury was there this week, the queue ran all the way from the office entrance past the steps of the Durban High Court and into Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment).
One man, who previously worked for a local supermarket and lost his job during the Covid-19 lockdown, said he was worried about how he was going to feed his children. Others said the UIF payment was their only lifeline as there were no friends and relatives to depend upon.
A father of four called on the president to intervene, saying hunger raised the risk of gender-based violence and abandonment.
“They tell us they are short of staff. I have been coming here since October 23. I filled in the form here. They told me to come back on November 30. The system was down and they told us to come back on December 7 and today it is the same thing. We are very worried because we need this money to feed our children.
“Gender violence is starting from hunger. There is a shortage of food and it causes confusion in the head, the kids are crying to the mother and it puts pressure on the father and he might run away or think to do something stupid,” he said.
“The president has to intervene. The election is coming and they have to stand for the people because we all belong to God,” he said.
A-28-year old logistics worker who lost his job in August due to the lockdown said he had applied online for UIF on September 25 and was advised he would be contacted in 35 days. However, he had not heard a word.
“I tried calling. Nobody picked up the phone. The service is terrible. Why are they offering an online application if they are not going to do it?”
DA MP and spokesperson on employment and labour Michael Bagraim said he received daily reports of long queues at labour offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“People have been queuing since the end of March and some people tell me they get there at 3 am or 4 am in the morning and they sit with a camping chair. It has become a nightmare,” he said.
Department of Labour and Employment KZN spokesperson Nhlanhla Khumalo said the UIF system was currently inundated with applications.
“The UIF system is experiencing an unprecedented workload in recent times, which results in downturns (offline) at times but not often, however, if such occurs, our officials opt for a manual procedure and proceed with applications wherever possible,” Khumalo said.
“UIF application is usually processed and finalised in 35 working days. However, due to a high volume of applicants, several retrenchments and the lockdown backlog, the normal processing may take longer than anticipated,” Khumalo said.
He said the office was “operational outside normal working hours including but not limited to weekends and after hours when the system’s overload, in general, is minimal.”
“We would like to encourage our clients to log online applications and minimise continuous visits to offices. We do not think that the named office is failing UIF processing, our officials are working tirelessly in assisting those in desperate need of our services,” he said.
UIF spokesperson Makhosonke Buthelezi said UIF had paid R92 251 116.80 to 16 050 beneficiaries as at December 3.
He said a new USSD and UIFAPP service which will enable people to check the status of claims would be launched before the end of the month.
“These services are going to be zero-rated, which means clients will be able to access our services free of charge,” he said.
Buthelezi said people who had not received payment should contact the call centre on 0800 030 007 or visit the nearest labour centre.