Cape Town - 180501 -Members of the ANC NEC joins COSATU members during May Day COSATU march to Metrorail and Parliament. Pictures: Brendan Magaar / African News Agency (ANA).
JOHANNESBURG - COSATU strongly supports and welcomes the soon to be implemented Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act. 

Parliament will soon adopt the Labour Laws Amendment Bill. This will enable the implementation of the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act.

This act will significantly increase access to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for hundreds of thousands of retrenched and dismissed workers. It will benefit thousands of mothers going on maternity leave or who were previously denied maternity leave due to a still-born birth or third trimester miscarriage.

Cosatu’s only regret was that it took five long years for the government and Parliament to pass this very progressive and badly needed law and intervention in the economy. If this critical act had been adopted earlier it could have helped thousands of mine, retail, farm, banking and other workers who have painfully lost their jobs over the past few years.

It would have helped thousands of families in their time of need. Cosatu has been a key supporter of the amended act and helped champion and negotiate its way through Nedlac and Parliament, including the many delays it encountered. Key progressive aspects in it that will benefit thousands of retrenched workers, mothers and their dependents include:

Unemployment cover:

The act will increase UIF benefits from 238 to 365 days, in other from 8 to 12 months.

It will include public servants under the UIF and thus be covered in the event of dismissal. It will significantly expand workers’ access to the UIF by reducing the credit cycle workers need to build to claim UIF. Reduced and short time workers will be included who went from full-time to part-time work due to their companies’ financial distress will be covered at their previous full time income levels if retrenched or dismissed or on maternity leave.

Maternity leave:

The act will not exclude workers from UIF and maternity leave benefits if they are members of the Government Employees Pension Fund. Maternity leave benefits will be separate from UIF benefits, eg a woman who was on maternity leave last year will be entitled to UIF benefits this year if she loses her job. This will remove unfair discrimination against women simply for being mothers. Women, who had miscarriages in their third trimester or still-born births, will be entitled to maternity leave to allow them time and space to heal physically and emotionally. Domestic workers will be targeted to ensure that they receive maternity leave benefits.

Maternity leave benefits will be increased from 54percent to 66percent of salaries within the salary limit caps.

Protection of vulnerable workers:

The act will prohibit the charging of fees by any party to a UIF claimant.

It will allow the Minister of Labour to issue regulations for domestic workers and employees of small businesses and enterprises to ensure that they are covered.

Dependents:

If a worker receiving UIF or maternity leave payments passes away, his or her beneficiaries (eg family dependents) will be entitled to the remainder of their UIF or maternity leave payments.

Beneficiaries include spouses or life partners or dependent children. They will now have 18 months to claim their benefits.

We cannot continue to have a R150billion UIF surplus whilst we have a rising 35percent unemployment level. The expansion of access to UIF benefits and cover will help funnel billions of UIF funds into the pockets of those unemployed workers and mothers on maternity when they need it most. This will help them to care for and feed their families.

It will enable them to buy food, electricity, water, transport, etc. It will be money spent in the local economy. It will thus help spur local economic growth and to protect and create badly needed local retail and manufacturing jobs. The increased expansion of access to the UIF has been costed and calculated. It has been set at levels that will protect the sustainability of the UIF and ensure that it will continue to protect workers needing its assistance.

It is important to remember that the UIF is a workers’ tax. It is their insurance funded by deductions from their wages. It must be used to protect workers from unemployment and to help mothers and their new-born children. It must not be kept from workers behind a web of bureaucracy.

It does not make any economic sense to leave billions of rands of UIF funds locked up when 35percent of workers are unemployed and we are burdened by 1percent jobless growth. The UIF must be a tool to help the unemployed and grow the economy.

The Department of Labour and the Unemployment Insurance Fund need to urgently increase the deployment of staff to their offices to ensure that UIF claimants are dealt with quickly and professionally. The days of endless queues at UIF offices need to come to a rapid end.

Once implemented, these new benefits will literally put billions of rands into workers’ pockets and help protect thousands of workers during their time of need and help grow the economy through this massive cash injection.

After the new changes have come into effect, and the UIF has had time to assess their full financial impact, the government has agreed to Cosatu’s demand that a further round of engagements will take place between the government and Cosatu at Nedlac on how to further expand access for workers to the UIF.

Areas for further engagement at Nedlac between the government and Cosatu as well as Fedusa, Nactu and business will be on how to expand access to the UIF include how to ensure cover for: informal sector workers; self employed workers; workers who resign from their work (eg due to family relocation, the need to care for sick family members, victimisation etc. This impacts heavily upon women in particular); and long-term unemployed workers.

This is another milestone in parliamentary victories for workers.

Matthew Parks is Cosatu’s Parliamentary Co-ordinator.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT