But the Department of Labour strongly advises against forcing employees to use annual leave.
While the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) allows employers to determine the time that employees can take their annual leave, the Department of Labour has asked employers not to force employees to use their annual leave but rather use one of the other packages provided by the government to ease the financial burden they face.
“In as much as employers are within their rights to insist that employees take annual leave during the lockdown, as the Department, we encourage employers not to request employees to utilise their annual leave credits for the lockdown, but to rather utilise the financial assistance that the department has placed at their disposal through the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) in cases where companies cannot afford to pay employees", says Department of Employment and Labour chief director of labour relations Thembinkosi Mkalipi.
Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi stated on Tuesday that the department had received a barrage of complaints from employees who had been given no choice on the matter, with many employers instructing them to take unpaid leave during the lockdown.
“We do understand that, in terms of the leave determination, employers can compel employees to take leave at any time as they deem fit. However, this is a different situation that requires all of us to act in a manner that seeks to promote social solidarity,” said the minister.
“As the department, we have issued a directive explaining the process to be followed and the kind of benefit the employees will be entitled to. We announced a National Disaster Covid-19 benefit that the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has put in place as an instrument to mitigate the effects of lay-offs of workers during the lockdown.”
The Minister also advised against employees making individual applications to the UIF as this would cause extensive delays. Instead, he said that his department has put systems in place to pay out UIF benefits through companies, sectoral associations and bargaining councils.
According to Daily Maverick, the UIF has made R30 billion available for Covid-19 income support to employees who have either been laid off or are facing financial distress in lieu of the virus.