Many of the readers of this column in Independent Media have written to me over the past few months complaining about problems they have experienced at both the Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
Both these funds are run by the Department of Labour (DoL) - now Department of Employment and labour - and, unlike the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), there seems to be various problems in all the provinces.
Dozens of these complaints appear to have merit and many of them I have sent on to the respective commissioners of the funds.
To the commissioners credit I get timeous responses and the majority of these complaints have been attended to. It is unfortunate that members of the public cannot get the service that they deserve. The constitutional mandate of the DoL includes “to provide adequate social security nets to protect vulnerable workers”. Furthermore, their value proposition is “we treat employees with care, dignity and respect”.
Unfortunately, I interacted with one complainant who had put in a workmen’s compensation claim about 20 years ago. I delved into the paperwork and found that he had been treated shoddily and with absolutely no care, dignity and respect. He has undertaken to revert to me after I had raised his complaint.
Edward had an accident in 2007, he submitted his accident claim form timeously as supported by an affidavit signed by him. He also very carefully sent in the medical reports which were signed off by the hospital and his doctors.
He collated an entire file of documentation with the employers’ report of the accident. Unfortunately, these documents were lost by the department on no less than two occasions. Linda, a medical practitioner, had been asked to treat patients but had sent me a mail which was copied to various individuals within the compensation fund to state that she hadn’t received replies to her correspondence.
She went on to state: “It would be a travesty if we were not to assist such patients because WCF do not pay their accounts.”
She went on to explain to me that at a particular private hospital she was told that some specialists were refusing to see patients injured on duty due to the difficulties in receiving payment. These unfortunate set of events are putting the physicians in a terrible situation.
They are obliged in terms of their oath of practice to help patients, but they are reluctant because of non-payment. Apparently, this type of situation has been repeated countrywide and over at least two decades. To the commissioner’s credit he is desperately trying to catch up on the backlog of these cases and has indeed printed adverts asking people to come forward and submit their claims if they haven’t been sorted out already.
It appears that the Umehluko System (their computer system) has been dysfunctional and despite spending millions of rand on it they haven’t been able to make it user friendly. I am advised they are introducing a new computer system because, despite the enormous expenses incurred in trying to fix the previous system, it has not produced results.
Nazeema wrote a plea to me stating: “I am in desperate need for help as I am having endless problems with the Workmen’s Compensation department.” She went on to explain that she had spent enormous money on travelling costs going to various branches, spending money copying documents and the use of the internet.
She said she had sent the same documents over and over to different people. Her travelling costs to police stations for affidavits, telephones cost to Pretoria from Cape Town and various emails and she still had no “luck”. Nazeema explained that the system is complicated and convoluted. She had no help from the call centre in Pretoria and unfortunately was not much more successful at the DoL in Mitchells Plain. It does however appear that she is now receiving some help.
I had the opportunity to speak to the director-general in the DoL, who didn’t think it was fair that I approached his commissioners directly about certain people as they then would appear to have “jumped the queue”.
I can outline dozens of complaints about the UIF, including letters from employers who have been desperately trying to register for months.
They tell me that the computer systems are down, that phones are not answered and the queues are almost intolerable.
Often people queue for hours to find that they don’t have the correct paper work or they are in the wrong queue. This can be compared and contrasted to the CCMA which has a perfectly working system.
As the economy bites and more and more people are retrenched, we would expect the departments to be well geared to service the unfortunate claimants.
All of the above are a sad reflection as most of the clients of WCF and UIF are vulnerable and at a very low ebb in their life.
The new Minister of Labour is aware of the public’s cry for help and hopefully the past two decades of problems and inactivity will not be an impossible challenge.
I do know that the director-general at the DoL is fully aware of the various complaints, many of them I have personally brought to his attention. He has implemented systems of service compliance and has promised a turnaround.
The DoL is now also charged with another string to its bow.
The new Minister of Employment and Labour is expected to create an environment which is conducive to job creation. It must be known that government is not good at creating jobs but certainly can engender an environment which is job-creation friendly.
My plea to the department is that they deregulate as much as possible enabling small businesses to take the risk to create as many jobs as South Africa needs in the future.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media