The Department of Labour (DOL) is quiet today. The lady at the front desk explains that their computers have been down since Friday, and even she seems annoyed by this.
Usually the queue leaks out onto the street. A mass of tired fathers, impatient children, and frail women wait together for the day.
Petro Mostert, who still needs to claim her Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), has lost hope after six failed attempts.
“If I go back, there’s a chance I will sit in the queue for at least 6 hours without any guarantee I will be helped. From my experiences, I’ve seen 3 to 4 tellers serving at least 300 people per day,” she explains.
Erla Diedericks, who also had to apply for UIF four years ago, had a similar experience.
“I somehow doubt that the situation has improved over the years. Although they need to avoid fraud, I felt it was more a snail trail than a paper trail that was being followed.”
With the situation unlikely to change anytime soon, Mostert and Diedericks tell their stories in order to help others survive this ordeal.
1. Preparing the correct documentation
According to Teboho Thejane, spokesperson for the Department of Labour, different documents are required for different benefits. Have a look at the below infographic to find out which documents you should bring:
You can find and download these forms on the following website.
“Claims processing periods vary according to the type of benefit applied for. Processing can take from 15 to 20 days - provided all the required documents and information are there,” says Thejane.
Mostert, who downloaded the required forms online and completed them beforehand, claims that the forms they tell you to bring on the website are not always correct.
“You stand in a queue for at least an hour to get to the front, only to hear you have the wrong papers. Then they tell you to get an affidavit at the police station next door, and when you come back you have to stand in the same queue again,” she says.
“Eventually you arrive at the door, only to hear that there is a good chance that you will not be helped today, and now it is 10am and you have been there since 7am.”
Diedericks, who also struggled with her paperwork, suggests calling the department beforehand and double-checking which forms are required and whether an affidavit is necessary.
She also encourages those who were made redundant to check with the Human Resources (HR) of their outgoing company or a financial expert whether they qualify for UIF.
“When you sign your redundancy forms, ask HR to help you. Maybe download the forms beforehand and take it to your workplace the day you have to sign your resignation or redundancy forms so that they can assist you,” says Diedericks.
2. Preparing for the wait
Thejane explains that the UIF makes daily payments of close to R40 million to between 38,000 and 40,000 claimants.
This means that hundreds of unemployed South Africans will show up at the DOL every day with enquiries and applications. And, of course, everyone has to wait their turn.
Diedericks suggests you prepare in the following ways, depending on your personal circumstances:
- Since you will probably queue outside the department during the early hours of the morning, pack an umbrella, and extra warm clothes just in case it rains or gets cold.
- If you have no choice but to bring your child along, make sure you have toys or an iPad to keep them busy. If you have an older child or available friend, ask them to come along to help with bathroom breaks and keeping an eye on the younger child.
- Pack yourself and those who accompany you a snack or lunch, since you will probably be there for some time. Also remember to bring something to drink.
- If you travelled by car, make sure you have enough money for parking. With all the hours you might spend there, it could be quite expensive.
- Charge your cellphone beforehand to ensure you have enough battery life. That way you won’t have to worry about loved ones struggling to get hold of you.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Take along any other documents you might need: The redundancy contract, photo copies of your ID, and proof of divorce or marriage. Plus, a bill with a recent address (just in case).
3. What time should you arrive?
During her first attempt at the DOL, Mostert recalls reaching a teller after hours of waiting where her forms were checked for a second time.
“Then I was allocated a chair. I sat down and after about 30 minutes – without moving forward a single chair – an official told all of us that we will not be helped that day and have to come back the next day,” says Mostert.
The next day she made sure to arrive at 7.15am. By that time 50 other people, who had been there since 6am, were already queued outside.
“We stood there until the doors opened at 8am, and then it was the same story as the previous day. First outside the door, then inside, then the chairs. At around 10am – after moving about 3 chairs in 2 hours – the official told us that there is once again a chance that we will not be helped that day. So I left,” says Mostert.
The following morning she arrived at 7am. But the same thing happened. She then decided to wait for two weeks, allowing sick staff members at the DOL to get back to work, but when she returned to try again, nothing had changed.
In contrast to Mostert’s experience, Thejane claims that there is no “specific time” one should arrive at the DOL. According to her all clients will be assisted during the department’s business hours (7.45am to 4.15pm).
However, Diedericks, who arrived around 5.30 and joined a queue of 10 people who were already there, suggests that claimants try get there between 5.30 and 6am.
“In winter it is still dark at that time. I did not feel unsafe, as I was with other people by the entrance of the building. However, make sure you park nearby,” she says.
4. What to do when you are there
Mostert explains that the department is uncomfortable and noisy, which makes it difficult to get any work done. She suggests reading a book or listening to music instead.
“If you get up from your chair, people just move in. I had a woman holding my seat when I had to go to the loo. She sat on both our chairs and I did the same for her. It was quite funny.”
She also suggests having a lot of patience and low expectations.
To add to this, Diedericks points out that it’s crucial to stay calm and friendly when dealing with the tellers.
“Throwing tantrums will be stone-walled. When you arrive, go to the information counter or officer and ask where you should queue first. In my case, there were different rooms and it was confusing. Ask the people who are already waiting,” she suggests.
Diedericks believes all government buildings have been designed to keep children out, blood pressure high, and the cold trapped inside.
“Remember, you will feel as if your world has come to an end after losing your job. Standing in a line to ‘ask’ for money can be humiliating. So be kind to yourself,” she urges.
“This is just another day. It is just another thing you have to do to survive. From the cold corridors, to the stern security guards, and even the confusing trek between countless counters: You will survive,” she insists.