READER LETTER | Call for expedited access to UIF for domestic, informal workers

Image: 123RF/lightwise


President Cyril Ramaphosa must be commended for his swift action in declaring a national state of disaster to curb the affect of Covid-19 in SA.

However, we are concerned about the grave risks of Covid-19 for a variety of people  such as domestic workers, sex workers, female farm workers, health care workers, informal traders, shop assistants, and recycling co-operatives..

Our work should not cost us our lives. Over the past two weeks we have been inundated with calls from these class of workers who are saying:

  • They have been dismissed or instructed to not show up for work, without pay or compensation;
  • They have been told to test for Covid-19, with no resources to get to testing facilities or self-isolate, while not being compensated for the time it takes to get to a facility (no-work-no-pay);
  • They have been forced to work and travel to their workplace in spite of high risks both en route and in the households of their employers;
  • They worry about not being able to put a plate of food on the table for their families and children; and 
  • They are forced to stop trading without any alternative means of income.

These workers make use of mass transport systems (taxis and buses) to get to and from work, areas the WHO and health department have deemed as high risk for infection.

Domestic workers and health care workers work in intimate spaces with people who are at high risk of Covid-19 infection.

However, due to the legacy of inequality we continue to live in, these are the very same workers who will not be paid and can’t afford to self-quarantine.

We believe a successful response to Covid-19 requires unity among all who live in SA. .

A unified response, however, requires government to take bold and deliberate steps to ensure the most vulnerable members of society are cared for and have their dignity and livelihoods secured.

Covid-19 will exacerbate inequality among the working class of this country as they do not have the choice to “work from home” and they are subject to “no work no pay” labour conditions.

Domestic and informal workers do not have access to compensation in the event that they contract Covid-19 while at work.

Given that we are officially under a national state of disaster, Mr President, we call for expedited access to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for domestic workers and informal workers. .

In addition, we request the government to prioritise the needs of the working poor by:

  • Instructing the private sector and employers to ensure workers who are forced to work are not exposed to  Covid-19 risks;
  • Extending UIF to all precarious workers;
  • Expand Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act to include all workers with immediate effect;
  • Make it mandatory for all precarious workers to be released from work on full pay for the duration of time it takes to halt the spread of the virus;
  • Use the existing social security safety nets to distribute additional relief funds (may be a corona relief fund) and ensure that applications for these funds are administered through a one-stop office and/or online platform; 
  • Accelerate access to universal basic needs such as clean water, nutritious food and dignified sanitation for the less privileged;
  • Release a comprehensive Covid-19 testing protocol that includes the set up of mobile testing sites that test everyone in key areas that display symptoms, including where internal transmission has begun and be quarantined and access treatment; and
  • Embark on  a communication strategy that goes beyond digital platforms. This could include door-to-door campaigns.

As the workers, who form the backbone of SA society, we have the ability to self-organise and are committed to being part of the solution to the current crisis.

It’s Time to Care. — Various civic organisations and academics

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