Access Granted – Volunteer Food Handlers secure UIF benefits in a successful campaign

A group of Volunteer Food Handlers in Gauteng demanded that schools and the labour department ensure timely access to their UIF benefits.

Former Volunteer Food Handlers outside the Vanderbijlpark labour office in Gauteng in 2023

Volunteer Food Handlers in Gauteng won their battle to secure the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits rightfully owed to them. This victory is due to persistent advocacy efforts, which revealed systemic issues plaguing many food handlers working under the National School Nutrition Programme.

Volunteer Food Handlers face a myriad challenges accessing their UIF benefits, ranging from inadequate record-keeping by school principals to a lack of interest and support from the Department of Labour and Employment. Challenges are compounded by a lack of information and confidence among food handlers, leaving many without a financial safety net.

Access Denied | A woman worker's struggle for social protection

Elizabeth’s story highlights the challenge of accessing UIF benefits for Volunteer Food Handlers and the devastating impact of the informalisation of work on women workers.

Last year, a group of Volunteer Food Handlers in Gauteng, supported by the LRS, mobilised to advocate for access to UIF benefits that they are entitled to. These women workers demand recognition and valuing of their jobs and proper conditions at work, including access to UIF benefits.

The UIF campaign from April to November saw all Volunteer Food Handlers involved receive their UIF payments. They presented one demand – that the schools and Department of Labour and Employment fulfil their obligations to ensure Volunteer Food Handlers receive UIF benefits at the end of their two-year contracts. 

Volunteer Food Handlers, contracted by the Department of Education under the National School Nutrition Programme, are entitled to UIF benefits, as outlined in their contracts. According to the law, employers must register their employees with the UIF and deduct a specified percentage of their monthly salaries as contributions to the fund.

Some food handlers knew about their UIF contributions and expected payment when their contracts ended, while others discovered their rights during LRS peer learning workshops. One food handler expressed frustration, stating:

“The UIF process is depressing enough, and then I am being ridiculed and treated like a nuisance when I try to get my UIF. The school community is making a joke out of our poverty. We are so desperate now and the people who are supposed to be helping us treat us like outcasts. Each time I visit the school I feel angry and I don’t sleep because the staff humiliate us so much to a point where we feel like invalids.”

Food handlers used various platforms, including community media, schools, and the labour department, to voice their dissatisfaction with the UIF process and to demand their benefits. They used WhatsApp groups to build solidarity and a shared purpose. They engaged the department of labour and supported each other to compel principles to fulfil their responsibilities for the process.

Former volunteer Food Handlers voicing their concerns and demands at a Gauteng labour office

LRS supported the food handlers’ UIF campaign by creating spaces for discussion, producing informational newsletters, disseminating educational messages, and co-creating a video with food handlers highlighting their struggle to access UIF benefits. 

These Volunteer Food Handlers not only secured their UIF benefits but expanded and consolidated, with a core group actively participating in our peer learning spaces and a wider network of over 200 food handlers in Gauteng more aware of their rights. 

The impressive self-organisation witnessed in the UIF campaign opens the possibility of mobilising nationally to ensure that workers involved in the National School Nutrition Programme, a crucial government initiative for poverty alleviation, can assert their rights.

With my UIF I have joined a group of women who go to Durban every month to buy stock and then with this stock I can sell to the community. I also create small packs of vegetables for the pot and sell these.

UIF Factsheet: Everything a Volunteer Food Handler should know about UIF benefits.

Find out:

  • Which law supports UIF?
  • Do I qualify for UIF?
  • How can UIF  help me?
  • How will I know if I am registered for UIF?
  • How can I access my UIF benefits?
  • Frequently Asked Questions


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