UIF amendment bill will allow political interference - NUMSA

Union expresses concern over labour minister's powers to appoint an 'accounting authority' for fund

NUMSA submission to parliamentary hearings on Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has made a submission to the Portfolio Committee on Labour on the “Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill”, which will amend the Unemployment Insurance Act (UIA).

Officially unemployment stands at 25.5% and is in reality higher at 34.9%, if the expanded definition is used. This, combined with the poor economic expectations for 2016 and beyond, highlights the crucial role that UIF plays in just keeping the unemployed alive.

Delay in Tabling the Bill at Parliament

The Bill was previously discussed at NEDLAC where substantial agreements were reached and has our broad support. However, we object to the inexplicable delay in the Bill being brought to Parliament, as the NEDLAC negotiations were completed as far back as 2013. Initially in the NEDLAC process Labour had called for a more comprehensive review of the UIA in order to address a number of workers’ outstanding concerns, including that of denying UIF benefits for workers who have resigned. 

However the Department of Labour provided an assurance that there would be a review through a second-round process that would be implemented within 18 months of the enactment of the Bill. They also indicated that they intended the Bill to be passed in early 2014 in order to provide urgent relief within the context of rising unemployment, particularly of a prolonged nature.

Demand for relief for workers who resign

The delay has meant that this review has not happened. Workers must not carry the brunt of Government’s tardiness and bad faith. We demand the immediate amendment of the Bill currently before Parliament to include the right of workers to UIF benefits when they resign from employment.

Support for most amendments in the Bill

NUMSA does support the majority of the amendments in the Bill which will alleviate some of the effects of unemployment, including:

- UIF benefits for public servants and learners in learnership agreements.

- Allowing people to claim UIF who are forced to work past retirement age, even if they also receive the state old age pension.

- UIF benefits for those are only partially unemployed or on short-time.

- Increasing maternity benefits so that a woman will in future receive maternity benefits at a flat rate of 66%, subject to an income ceiling.

- Extending UIF benefits for up to a year, although for the extended period the benefit will be paid at a flat rate of 20%.

- Altering the rate of accrual for benefits so that workers can build up credits faster, and can therefore claim sooner.

- Separation of maternity benefits from unemployment benefits so that a women may still with UIF even if she was recently on maternity leave.

We are further calling on Treasury to publish supporting amendments to the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act. This will enable the collection of UIF contributions from public servants and learners, without which neither of these groups will be able to access UIF benefits despite the Bill providing for their inclusion.

Call for deletion of problematic provisions

NUMSA is calling for the deletion of two amendments from the Bill that were not discussed at NEDLAC.

Accounting Authority

The first amendment allows political interference by the Minister of Labour to arbitrarily appoint any Labour Department or UIF official as the “accounting authority” for the fund. Currently this role is played by the Director-General and it is an important function given the need to maintain strict financial accountability for what constitutes workers’ hard-earned income intended for the singular purpose of reducing the hardships associated with unemployment.

NUMSA has publicly objected to instances of political interference by the Minister, specifically in relation to the role of the Registrar responsible for ensuring trade union compliance with rules of the LRA.

Exclusion of Maternity Benefits for Women who have Voluntarily Terminated Pregancies

Currently maternity benefits are able to be claimed for women who experience miscarriages or stillbirths in the trimester. Quite problematically the Bill now proposes to prevent this being used for women who voluntarily terminate their pregnancies. A woman’s right to access to legal termination of a pregnancy has been in place since 1997, and reflects an extension of the broader rights of women to make choices in relation to their reproductive health. But this Bill seeks to deny maternity benefits for legal terminations in the third trimester, when only medically advised terminations are permitted, namely on the basis that the health or life of either the mother or unborn child is at risk.

This proposed amendment therefore amounts to an attempt to morally discipline women for exercising their rights in respect of reproductive decisions.

Numsa rejects, with contempt, the proposal to prevent women who voluntarily terminate their pregnancies from accessing maternity benefits as this is an attack on the already secured fundamental right of women to make choices in their reproductive health.

Issued by NUMSA, 5 February 2016