By Inhlase Reporter
While SADC governments have been criticised for a lack of leadership in resolving problems that migrant workers have in accessing their social security benefits, South Africa has been urged to ensure that systems are put in place to fast track payments. Desperate beneficiaries have, in some cases, have been waiting for decades to get the social benefits owed to them.
These calls were made at a high-level conference in Johannesburg, South Africa aimed at finding solutions to R42bn in unclaimed social benefits that is owed to mineworkers and their families and held in South Africa.
Speaking on behalf of the SADC region and as representative of eSwatini’s ministry of labour and social security made this call, Director of Social Security, Magwabane Mdluli reminded delegates that that the issue of unclaimed benefits was a touchy and volatile one that needed a practical solution from concerted efforts of all SADC states.
He pleaded with governments of the region to put in place proper system that would facilitate prompt payment of the social security benefits owed to migrant workers especially those who had worked in South African mines.
” Why is it so difficult to pay these benefits? I think it is due to lack of systems of paying social security benefits of migrant workers,” he said and added that the lack of these systems caused such delays that the beneficiaries often passed away without ever getting the social security benefits owed to them.
He said that, like the International Labour Organisation’s Conventions that created systems on the portability of social security benefits, SADC had to do the same. He said it was time for SADC countries to make bi-lateral agreements with South Africa so that benefits could be paid with ease
“As SADC we must create systems that facilitate the payment of the social benefits so that when the time comes for the worker to get paid, they know how and where to get their funds,” said Mdluli who used the system improvements to the eSwatini pension fund as an example of how a proper system could mean the difference between money taking years to be paid and money being paid within a week if the correct documents are submitted.
Speaking on the challenges faced by different funds and schemes administering and paying out various forms of social security benefits, TEBA’s Head of Rural and Foreign Operations, José Carimo pointed out several issues.
These included non-availability of tax numbers, letters of authority, travel and document costs, family disputes, data quality, touts, and fraudsters.
With regards to the issue of the availability of tax numbers, he said members are unable to access tax numbers through electronic mechanisms due to changes in telephone, address, and passport details
“Where such changes occurred, they need to travel to SARS branches which are far from their homes.”
He said foreign letters of authority were not accepted by most funds and resealing of such letters is problematic on account of the transport cost and language barriers. He said people travel from far to have letters from South Africa.
He said that this requirement needed to be amended by the SA government to reflect fund values that may require it and exclude others especially for small benefit amounts.
Travel and Document Costs
Carimo also pointed out that document requirements from the SADC member states’ Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs departments including ID and birth certificates take long to issue.
“Death certificates which are not issued to people who were interned without formal notice to department of home affairs are also another challenge. Similarly, marriage certificates are another issue as access to printing, scanning and e-mail facilities as well as internet cafes are expensive and far from people’s homes,” he said.
He also pointed out that poor quality of data makes tracing very difficult if not impossible.
He said sources like RICA, SASSA are difficult to access while foreign databases are at times not up-to-date due to the low credit activity and issues with population registers.
Carimo said family disputes were another challenge in that key documents cannot be obtained without the cooperation of all family members. Using the examples of marriage certificates for traditional marriages, he added: “Documents are mostly only available in English and are difficult to understand for some beneficiaries reading in a 3rd or 4th language. These leave room for touts to manipulate people. Proliferation of touts and fraudsters who distribute false information create a lot of distrust amongst claimants.”
Other fund administrators agreed that obstacles to paying benefits include; non-acceptance of letters of authority obtained outside of South Africa; database challenges; a lack of systems to support the processing of payments; verification processes to ascertain ex-mine workers and the non-binding of the portability of benefits guidelines; lack of tax numbers by claimants, the unavailability of relevant documents and compliance with regulations.
The meeting recognised that there had been too much talking and less action. The problem of unpaid benefits has been discussed since 2012, and no clear pathway has been found.
The delegates were unanimous in calling out the lack of leadership from the South African government and labour sending SADC countries (Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi and Zimbabwe) to resolve the many problems identified.
The SADC secretariat was also identified as not playing the regional response role to coordinate and harmonise policies on unpaid benefits across Southern Africa. The mining industry, despite the progress made to reform and support the process, was strongly urged to continue pushing and to monitor the funds to ensure that they pay ex-miners their money.
There are some South African based mining pension funds administrators that are taking progressive initiatives to find best solutions to the issue of unpaid benefits to ex-miners and their families.
Delegates, however, called on the South African government particularly to come on board and help fast-track the payment to ex-mineworkers and their families. Although this meeting focused on the mining sector, the problem affects many other sectors.