Keeping food on the table under lockdown

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By USISIPHO BATYI

Restaurants have been closed for more than 80 days under the national lockdown. The initial phase, level 5, saw all restaurants close. Under level 4, they have been permitted to operate on a delivery basis. In the week the President announced that sit-down eating will once again be allowed under stringent conditions, we look at the effect of the past 80 days on table staff.

Grocott’s Mail spoke to two employees who asked that they and their employers remain anonymous.

“The week we closed, we were each given a R200 note and told not to return to work,” said Mary*.

“If we had not fought and confronted the franchise through our union, we would have never received money from them. The results of our contesting it eventually paid off and we received our UIF at the start of May,” said Mary.

“The franchise offered to give us R750 per week for 15 weeks under the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme during the lockdown and said that once we start working, they will deduct that money from our income.

“Many of the employees took that option because they had no choice. They had to feed their families,” Mary said.

“It’s depressing because we are hungry, the government must allow us to go back to work,” said Thandi*, who works for a fast-food franchise.

“We’ve been forced to go out in the townships trying to find other means to make ends meet, so this strategy is not effective in containing the spreading of the virus.”

“In level 3 not all of us can go back to work and some of us remain at home.”

Manager of 046 Grill Bar in High Street Noxolo Grootboom said as a small operation, both employer and employees  were struggling.

“I had to pay my employees from my own pocket during the lockdown. But now I can no longer pay them,” said Noxy.

Mugg and Bean franchise owner Craig Foord said most franchises were given several options to keep afloat and pay their employees.

“The employer who offered a R750 weekly income for their employees took out a business loan rather than signed up for TERS,” Foord said. “UIF and TERS don’t require the employees to pay back the money”.

Foord said he had decided not to take out the loan because he knew he could not pay it back and didn’t want his employees to take on further debt.

The Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) introduced the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) for employers who were financially distressed and unable to pay salaries of employees during the Covid-19 crisis. TERS was available to employers who were required to close their operations for a period of three months (or less). Only employers were able to apply to the Department of Employment and Labour for TERS support, for themselves and their employees.

If employers couldn’t obtain assistance from TERS, employees themselves could apply to the UIF for the reduced work-time benefit. This applied to employees who had lost income due to a reduction of the amount of time they are able to work.

“The UIF and TERS application processes have been long and slow – you have to resubmit document after document,” said Foord.

“However, I have been able to pay my workers.”

For further information on the measures introduced by the UIF, please visit: www.labour.gov.za.

* Not their real names.

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