By: Andrei Damane
I’m Andrei Damane, and I was ever so courteously invited by the editor of this blog, Kabelo, to make a contribution for this month. As you can tell, I ever so courteously accepted the offer.
You may know who I am. I tried out for Idols (I use ‘tried out’ on purpose) twice – in 2010 and in 2012. I have a blog of my own, which I haven’t updated in like a year. On a number of occasions, people have stumbled across it and have asked me to update it. I haven’t. I was planning to update it when Kabelo came around and asked me contribute for Inspired4Writers. He said my contribution should “initiate fruitful thought and conversation amongst the readers”. At first I thought I would just write about my Idols experience, having nothing else more fruitfully thoughtful to write about. But that changed quite suddenly when I woke up on Thursday, November 1, 2012.
I had woken up at 5:30 on that morning, as I always do, to switch on the geyser before I get up to get ready for work. There is a precinct in Cape Town’s Green Point called De Waterkant, which is renowned for its trendy boutique shops and high-end-lifestyle living. That is where I was intending on going that morning. I got back into bed, planning to wake up thirty minutes later to prepare myself for the day. I then woke up at 6am and checked my phone, as I usually do, and discovered that the manager of the restaurant I worked at and was preparing to go to, had sent me a very long message. I sat up in my bed and started reading what it said:
“Mr. – asked me to send you a message. The landlords said that seeing that he has not paid the rent for some time now, they no longer want us around. They gave him a letter this week which said that they would cut the electricity and lock all the doors on Thursday. He is sorry that he could not tell you in person and thank you, but he was trying to save the business until the last minute. He wishes you well. I have your wages so contact me to arrange.”
And just like that, I found myself unemployed. I wasn’t warned. I wasn’t told to start looking for another job ahead of time. I got a text message that told me not to come to work because work, as I had known it, no longer existed. And I didn’t even get the text from my now former employer, but from his own, now ex, employee. Just a day later, the staff of 1Time found themselves in a very similar situation. A day that started out as any other day changed suddenly. In a moment I became a statistic. I became part of the 25.5% of South Africans who are unemployed.
I started searching that same day for a new job. I almost expected it to fall into my lap. It didn’t. It was quite unnerving that after five days and countless replies to Gumtree ads later, I still had found nothing. I thought I could just apply for my UIF benefit, then I discovered the amount of paperwork that is necessary. I also realised that, in my attempt to organise the paperwork needed to claim UIF, my previous employer had pretty much abandoned me. My loyalty counted for nothing and I felt as though I was taken for granted. That made me realise that I hadn’t ensured my protection as an employee. I feel that that is the case for many young people who are starting to work or who unexpectedly find themselves out of work. It is for this reason that I have made a list of things I did and things I wish I did to protect myself:
1) Labour laws are there to protect you. Get to know them and it will prevent you from being exploited.
2) If you decide to accept a job, make sure there is some kind of official written contract of employment that you may use as reference if needed.
3) Read your contract thoroughly.
4) ENSURE THAT YOU GET A COPY OF YOUR SIGNED CONTRACT.
5) Make sure that your income is recorded and don’t throw away your payslips.
6) A percentage of your earnings should be contributed to the UIF. This should be shown as a deduction with a UIF reference on your payslip. Check if that is the case.
7) If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate event that you are retrenched, your employer should issue you with a letter of retrenchment. You can’t claim UIF without it.
8) Even if you don’t plan on resigning or are not retrenched, it’s a good idea to ask for a signed reference letter of your performance to keep and have updated regularly.
9) As far as possible, just be aware of things concerning your employment. As I found out the hard way, anything can happen.
I’m sure there are a number of other points I may not have mentioned. It would be greatly appreciated if any contributions you may have are added in the comments. I believe that there’s nothing more important than being informed, especially in a society that is so regulated and when regulations can easily confuse you and trap you.
I hope everyone can take something from this.