People queue from 2:30am at Goodwood Labour office

The department encourages the use of its online system but many can’t use it

By Marecia Damons

23 January 2024

More than 100 people were waiting outside the Department of Labour office in Goodwood at 7:30am last Wednesday. Adrienne Loufoukou from Delft said she could go to the Bellville branch, which is closer to where she stays, “but the queues there are worse, so I tried my luck here”. Photo: Marecia Damons

“We are standing outside like beggars for our own money,” said former retail worker Adrienne Loufoukou. Last week Wednesday it was her fourth attempt to try and sort out her UIF claim at the Department of Labour office in Goodwood, Cape Town.

“We are not here for fun. We lost our jobs and we just want that little bit of money. But now we are being treated like we are nothing,” she said. “I missed my children’s first day back at school to be here.”

Loufoukou lost her job in December and first went to the labour office on the 21st of that month. She was given a bank form to complete. The offices then closed for the festive season. Loufoukou returned on 8 January and was told that her company had not registered her for UIF and that she needed to return on 15 January. She was unable to go on Monday and went on Tuesday at 6am.

While waiting outside in the queue, loadshedding started at 10am.

She said the staff took their tea break during loadshedding and after loadshedding they took their lunch break. She said that when the staff returned they cut the line after 20 people and she and others were sent home. They were told to submit their documents online.

“We told them we’ve been standing here for long and I asked them why they didn’t tell us before that we must do it online. They just said, ‘Sorry, you must do it online. We are cutting people off now and we cannot help you,’” she said.

People queueing told GroundUp that homeless people sleep in front of the gates and offer their spots in exchange for money.

To avoid waiting in vain once again, Loufoukou paid a homeless person R50 for a spot in the front of the queue when she arrived at 6am on Wednesday last week.

When GroundUp arrived at 5:30am, about 60 people were waiting outside. By the time the offices opened at 7:35am, this number had doubled, with more people joining the queue. People sat on crates and chairs they brought from home, while others stood in the sun. Some waited in their cars parked across the road from the office.

The Department of Labour previously encouraged employees to use online tools like the uFiling system to “help curb snaking queues at labour centres across the country”. It said the uFiling system “allows employees to submit claims, check their status and submit enquiries from the comfort of their homes”.

In September last year, UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) that a new UIF app allowing people to lodge claims online would reduce the lines at labour centres. However, these methods are not accessible to everyone.

“We don’t have internet or laptops to do it and not everyone is computer literate or has a smartphone,” said Samantha Beerwinkle. She arrived at 2:30am on Wednesday and was eighth in the queue. “I was here yesterday[Tuesday] at 5:45am and at 2:25pm they sent me away and said they can’t help anymore because it’s full.”

She was then told to complete the process online. “Not everyone understands the online system. What if you click something wrong?” she asked.

Beerwinkle paid a driver R200 to take her from Delft to the department on Wednesday. On Tuesday she had paid a driver R150 because minibus taxis only start operating from 5am.

“[On Tuesday], they just came out to check my forms and said it was right and gave me a bank form. After that, I wasn’t helped,” said Beerwinkle.

Also in the queue, Hilton Dickenson from Parow sat in a camping chair. It was his third time visiting the office to sort out his UIF payment. He arrived there shortly after 5am. During his previous visit, he arrived at 6:40am but still wasn’t assisted when the office closed at 4pm.

“Sometimes they say the system is offline, and sometimes it’s loadshedding … Government departments should have generators or inverters.”

Dickenson said phoning the call centre for assistance was unhelpful.

“Every time you call you get a different person who gives you a different answer. You do what they tell you, then when you call the next one they say, ‘No, you shouldn’t have done that’ … One told me to email the papers, but another said I must stand in the queue,” he said.

We approached the department for comment on Thursday. This article will be updated once comment is received.