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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Cosatu backs UIF changes

Some amendments came into effect on March 18. Others will be implemented later this year.

The new amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Act that seek to improve the lives of UIF beneficiaries have been hailed as progressive and movement towards world standards.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) believes the changes would go a long way to improving the lives of workers who have lost their jobs, mothers who would benefit from the new maternity leave benefit dispensation as well as parents who would now, at long last, qualify for paid parental and adoption leave.

Cosatu parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks, welcomed the amendments some of which came into effect on 18 March and others at a later date to be determined for this year.

The amendments agreed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), were envisaged to come into effect in 2014. But they were only adopted by Parliament in August last year and signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last December.

Since March workers can claim unemployment benefit up to 12 months if they worked for a continuous three-year period.  It used to take up to 4 years to build your full credit.  This has now been reduced to 3 years with the amendments.

Labour Department recently announced that the benefits were now paid from date of unemployment instead of the application date.

“This is very important for the workers because many workers lost their jobs in various sectors but were not benefiting properly from the Fund. This is an important milestone as more workers would get compensated for a longer period during which they will be able to take care of their families,” Parks said.

The Department said in terms of the new set up, contributing workers undergoing learnership training will be eligible for unemployment benefits once their contract ends. Also, the maternity payment for all mothers had been increased from 54 percent of the salary to a fixed rate of 66 percent since March 18. “An application for maternity benefits must be made prior to the birth of the child or within 12 months,” the department announced recently.

It is now provided that mothers who gave birth to still-born babies and those who had a miscarriage in their third trimester would be entitled to claim maternity leave benefits. Of the six months, two months was unpaid leave like was the case currently with mothers who gave birth normally.

Parental leave will now be provided for under and entitled to claim 66% of their salaries from the UIF. Any parent whose partner had given birth to a child can claim for paternity leave of ten days.  This includes fathers as well as partners in a same-sex partnership.  It also includes parents who have a newborn child that was born through a surrogate mother.

The adoption leave is another area of interest in the changes. If parents legally adopted a child of two years of age and younger, one of them would be entitled to get leave of ten weeks paid adoption leave and the other parent would be entitled to claim the 10 days paid parental leave.  Both parents would be entitled to claim 66 percent of the salary from the UIF. But they must first produce court judgement or order as proof of the legality of the adoption.

Parental leave can be claimed once a year.

“We support these changes, we had been fighting for this through Nedlac, the government and Parliament. This will help to build stronger families and to support mothers who went through the traumatic experience of miscarriage and bearing a still-born child. In addition, these amendments will help to release billions of Rands from the UIF into the pockets of workers who struggle to make ends meet and their spending will further contribute to the growth of our economy,” Parks said.

An employment law specialist at Hogan Lovells, Jean Ewang, said while the parental, adoption and surrogacy leaves are yet to be implemented, they could be seen as progressive changes to the employment environment. “I think this is a positive development and given the fact that it’s now 2019, South Africa needs to take steps to reflect the realities of its workforce and to keep up with the rest of the world,” Ewang said.

She said the inclusion of the new categories of UIF beneficiaries wouldn’t put much pressure on the fund.

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