National Association of Democratic Lawyers
Comments on the
Unemployment Insurance Bill
(Government Gazette No 21563 of 11th September 2000)
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to an oral submission on the Unemployment Insurance Bill.
We will begin by stating that in principle we fully support the establishment of an adequate and accessible Unemployment Insurance Fund to which both employers and employees contribute and from which employees are eligible to draw benefits in the case of unemployment, illness, maternity, adoption, or death of the contributing spouse and/or parent.
Furthermore, we welcome that the bill seeks to separate maternity and unemployment benefits to ensure that female contributors are no longer being 'penalised' in the case of pregnancy by drawing on their unemployment benefits.
Even though the new UIF Bill broadens its policy on assistance, widens its coverage, improves its benefits, and introduces enforcement policies, it is still important to note that the Act will only be able to assist a small percentage of unemployed people in this country.
The majority of those who are unemployed, many of whom are women, will not benefit from this legislation, since they were never employed in the formal sector or because they belong to one of the excluded categories from UIF benefits (e.g., seasonal employers, domestic workers). As a result, the access to the country's social security system remains a 'privilege' for a very limited number of working women in South Africa.
In addition, these exclusion criteria seem not to take into account the current reality that the majority of women work in the informal, as well as the domestic service sector and those located in the formal employment sector are often employed either part-time or as casual labourers.
1. Application of this Act
Section 3 of the Bill establishes categories of employers and employees to whom the Act will apply. Two of the categories, which will not be covered under this Act, are the domestic workers and government employees.
We suggest that the UIF Bill should apply to employers in the National and Provincials spheres of Government and its employees. This would result in an equal treatment of all employers (the state and the private sector) as well as its employees, create a stronger sense of national solidarity and would also strengthen the solvency of the Fund, since more contributions would be made.
We further recommend that the UIF Bill should apply to domestic workers from the onset and not postpone this issue to a later stage. Especially with regard to maternity benefits it is crucial not to exclude the vast number of female employees who are employed in the domestic service sector. This exclusion, as it can be argued, not only has implications upon the rights of workers in the domestic service sector but also implies that domestic workers are not yet seen as a 'valuable' enough category in the country's workforce to be included in its work-related benefits.
A suggested alternative would be that in the interim, until the investigation regarding the inclusion of domestic workers under the UIF coverage is concluded, domestic workers and their employers willing to make UIF contributions ought not to be precluded from doing so.
The UIF Bill should therefore include provisions to facilitate the collection of voluntary UIF contributions from domestic workers and their employees by a body such as representative organisational structure of domestic workers. Such a body would submit these contributions to the UIF Fund under the same fiscal controls and subject to the same reporting requirements that the Bill describes as pertaining to other employers.
2. Illness Benefits
Section 23 of the Bill outlines that the payment of illness benefits to the contributor or any other authorised person are to be made at an employment office.
We welcome the possibility for any other person, which is authorised by the contributor, to receive the payments of illness benefits on the contributor's behalf. In addition however, we suggest that the payment method of illness benefits be made optional, either by direct deposit into the beneficiary’s Bank Account or to the beneficiary at an employment office. We therefore strongly recommend that the beneficiary has to be given the right to choose the preferable payment method of illness benefits. The mailing of cheques has led on numerous occasions to fraud and is therefore not an alternative.
3. Maternity Benefits
Section 24(4) of the Bill defines the period of maternity leave in which benefits can be claimed as 17,32 weeks.
We suggest that the contributor should be entitled to benefits for a minimum period of 17,32 weeks and a maximum period of 24 weeks. For medical reasons as well as the emotional stability of mother and child it is important to give the contributor the right of choice to stay home and take care of the new born child up to 24 weeks.
Section 24(5) of the Bill determines a period of six weeks maternity benefits in the case of a miscarriage or stillbirth after the confinement.
In the event of a miscarriage prior to being confined, the contributor appears to have no right to maternity benefits. We therefore suggest that a contributor who has had a miscarriage during the pregnancy, but prior to being confined should also be entitled to the six weeks maternity benefits as well. This inclusion of all contributors who experience a miscarriage acknowledges the general need for recuperation and take into account the impact upon the health status and general well-being of the women worker after a miscarriage, independent of when it occurs.
3.1. Payment of Maternity Benefits
Section 26 of the Bill outlines that the payments of maternity benefits to the contributor are to be made at an employment office.
We suggest that the payment method of maternity benefits must be made optional, either by direct deposit into the beneficiary’s Bank Account or to the beneficiary at an employment office. We therefore strongly recommend that the beneficiary has to be given the right to choose the preferable payment method of maternity benefits. Going to the pay-out points and waiting for hours in the queues is too strenuous for mothers with new born children and may potentially course health problems for the mother and/or the new born child.
4. General Provisions Relating to UIF Benefits
Part G of Chapter 2 of this Bill should include legislation that provides for equivalent treatment of UIF cheques to salary cheques by the banks in order to minimise hardship by beneficiaries who otherwise have to wait an additional week before receiving their benefits.
We wish to reemphasis our principle support for the new Unemployment Insurance Bill and to state that our comments and suggestions are submitted with the objective of making a constructive contribution.
Dr Johanna Kehler
NADEL Human Rights Research and Advocacy Project