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Seasonal workers in De Doorns, who used to queue outside the department of labour offices in the area and in Worcester office overnight just to submit their Unemployed Insurance Fund (UIF) claims, have praised the intervention of a local paralegal office and activists that has resulted in the UIF unit of the labour department conducting programmes in the area. The UIF unit recently conducted a five-day outreach pilot in De Doorns, Sandhills and Hex River Valley to provide an opportunity to seasonal workers to submit UIF application since it is off-season between March and September and they are are now unemployed.

Previously, according to Thamsanqa Phala, the coordinator of the De Doorns Community Advice and Development Office, long snaking queues and campfires at night outside the De Doorns satellite office were the order of the day during off-season. “I have photos of people making bonfires outside the Department of Labour offices, fights among those in the queue would break out and those fights would not only end at the queue but people bringing it to the community. Elderly women and men would sleep outside the offices waiting to be helped. Young people and mothers with their newborn babies would also be in the queue.”

Phala told Elitsha that the intervention by the UIF unit came after several engagements with the department of labour and the UIF unit head based in Pretoria. The advice office was prompted to take action since the seasonal workers were being laid off during the Covid lockdown and not receiving their temporary employer/employee relief scheme (TERS) money and people were getting desperate because of poverty.

Phala remembered how the workers’ hunger drove him in March 2021 to call up the department of labour. Together with Dorothy Boikhutsho, the head at the UIF section of the DoL, they developed his proposal to assist farmworkers. “We decided to pilot the outreach programme in 2022 for one day in Sandhills and we organised transport for the nearby areas. It was a success and we sat down and decided to extend it,” he said.

The UIF unit of the Department of Labour received 3,000 bulk applications from employers.

According to Chandrey Hector, the assistant director of operations at the UIF unit said that they created a platform to speak to the farmers in the area and asked them to submit bulk UIF applications on behalf of the workers.” We received 3,000 applications via bulk and for the first two days of the outreach programme we received 1,000 applications. The plan is to collect them centrally and process them at our Cape Town office. The three offices in the area were not coping with the huge numbers,” said Hector.

Community activist and member of the Labour Community Media Forum, Pinky Nogcinisa, said the same of the local labour department office and that the outreach programme has brought relief. “Some were sleeping outside the satellite office so that they can submit their applications. Sometimes people submit their applications and go for a whole season without receiving their money,” she said.

An unemployed worker filling UIF applications forms to submit at Orchard Primary School in Sandhills near De Doorns.

In 2012, farmworkers in the area went on strike demanding better working and living conditions.

We met Havrodine Manevick, who works as a packer in a vineyard, as she was leaving the premises that the UIF unit was operating from. Manevick told Elitsha that she has been unemployed for two months and that she borrows money to survive during off-season. “I got here around 12h00 and slept outside. There were few people standing outside in the rain. They only assist 3 to 4 people at a time. We are very thankful to have them here to assist us,” she said.

“I’m here to apply for my UIF. Since the 30 March we tried to apply. We very satisfied with the way it has been handled today. I lost my job on the 8th Feb 2022 in Oudtshoorn; since then, we relocated to De Doorns seeking a better life for my family and a better future. I am very grateful that I could manage to sort out my UIF applications today,” said Gerhard Bruintjies.

Ratidzo Museva, a Zimbabwean national who has been staying in De Doorns since 2007, has been without a job since April. “I work in a vineyard. During off-season, I normally go back home in Zimbabwe and for now I just want to submit my application before I leave and I will be coming back in October,” she said.