FOUR employees at a Port Elizabeth bakery say they were horrified to discover they had not been registered with the Department of Labour despite their previous employer deducting UIF contributions from their wages for several years.
It was only after Dresden Bakery in Rink Street, Central, was sold to new owners in April last year and one of the employees needed to draw maternity benefits that they discovered they had never been registered with the department.
According to correspondence between the department and the new owners, the four – Zisiwe Mbaliseli, Millicent Mafu, Thelma Ngwalangwala and Cynthia Mkaza – apparently had also not been paid the minimum required wage.
Despite the department sending inspectors to look into the claims, spokesman Ziphozihle Klaas said more time was needed to assess the progress of its probe before responding to queries from The Herald yesterday.
Mkaza, who has worked at the bakery for 16 years, said the employees had exhausted all avenues in trying to claim back their unpaid UIF deductions and backpay.
"We went to the Department of Labour and they sent inspectors, but we have not heard anything yet about if we will get our money or not,” she said.
Mbaliseli added: "We want to know where all our deductions over the years have been going.”
The new owners have been trying to assist the four employees.
One of the business’s three partners, Aiden Colling, said they were very sympathetic to the plight of the employees and had been assisting them by liaising with the Labour Department.
"We took over the business last year as a new CC and registered the employees under our CC. It was about five months later when one of the ladies needed to go on maternity leave and it was only then that we discovered they had not been registered with the Department of Labour,” Colling said.
He said they wanted to help the employees because they considered it a serious matter.
"As employers we want to concentrate on the business but we have been trying to help them where we can,” he said.
The bakery’s previous owner, Otto Rath, said yesterday he had been under the impression that his bookkeeper had been paying the UIF contributions on behalf of the business.
"Our bookkeeper did all those payments. I thought that we were paying it all along. I did not know that the employees were not registered,” he said.
Later, Rath said that it was his wife, Barbara, who had been responsible for making the payments. This had been done by writing cheques and posting them on a monthly basis, he said.
Local labour law expert Johann van der Walt said cases where employers did not register employees and pay over UIF contributions to the department despite deducting them from wages were rare.
"It is very seldom that you hear of such a case ... Unfortunately with UIF, you only realise it is missing when you need to claim it, like with maternity benefits,” he said.
Van der Walt said the employees involved needed to report the matter to the department, which could issue a written instruction to the employer to pay the amount due.
The department would then monitor whether the amount was paid and, if not, a compliance order could be issued.
"If the money is still not paid over then the compliance order can be made a court order.”
Van der Walt said, depending on the agreement when the business was signed over from the old to the new owners, both employers could be held liable for the money.
"The money could be seen as one of the debts of the business and, in this regard, it could become the new owner’s liability. It depends on the sale agreement.”
Local employment law expert Chris Unwin said employees needed to check their pay slips to ensure that all amounts were correct.
"Employees are often fearful to complain because they think they may lose their jobs, but if something is not right they need to complain as soon as possible,” he said.