Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill [B25-2015]: public hearings

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Labour

03 February 2016
Chairperson: Ms L Yengeni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee held public hearings on the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill [B25-2015]. The Bill was endorsed by a number of agencies and labour unions although there were still concerns on some of the amendments that had been made. Formal submissions were made by a number of the labour unions, but individuals representing communities and other organisations also gave input.

Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) believed that the provisions that had been made in the Bill are progressive, in line with the spirit of the Constitution, and would benefit and help protect numerous vulnerable workers and their families, especially since most of those losing their jobs took at least two years to find other work. The increase in Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefits from eight to 12 months is a significant step. However, one of its major criticisms was the inclusion of the provision that whilst maternity benefits were largely increased, they were denied to pregnant women who had aborted voluntarily. It was pointed out that not only was this contrary to the progressive principles of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, but it also had not been included in the version of the Bill presented to Nedlac. This clause also came under much criticism from other bodies. COSATU pointed out that whilst an agreement had been reached initially that only some principles would be included in this Bill, with others to stand over for later research and agreement, in order to progress the Bill faster, the subsequent delay in processing this Bill was disappointing and meant that the other points were still unaddressed. These included resignations, seasonal workers such as farm labourers, informal sector workers such as taxi drivers; paternity, parental and adoption leave; and short time workers.

 

In a similar vein, other labour unions confederation of South African Workers Union (CONSAWU), National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) also strongly supported most of the amendments that had been introduced by the Department in the Bill. NUMSA called for the deletion of section 11(1)(a), which would provide the Minister with the discretion to designate the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner or any other official of the UIF or the Department as the accounting authority as it commented that this could be potential for political interference, similar to historical differences between the Minister and Department. However, other unions were strongly opposed to this and said that this discretion was necessary and within the Minister's mandate. There were several calls for the Bill to extend UIF benefits to workers who had resigned rather than being retrenched or dismissed. The repeated periods of unemployment means that even those who have contributed to the UIF may exhaust their rights to unemployment benefits and consequently will be subjected to waiting periods before being able to once again claim benefits. It mentioned the need to extend benefits to seasonal workers, to align the review process with the draft comprehensive social security policies and to address administrative blocks preventing asylum seekers from claiming unemployment. There were also several criticisms against employers who preferred to hire foreign workers and a call that they should be obliged to register all employees, foreign or local, and be heavily penalised for non-compliance, with the Department perhaps setting up a special task team to check the situation. This phenomenon was particularly prevalent in the domestic workers' sector.

FEDUSA believed it would be imperative to utilise the UIF to support the creation of decent work vital for rapid inclusive economic growth, through investments instruments (Bonds) of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) which in turn provided funding to both existing and start-up businesses. FEDUSA suggested that the eligible benefit must be revised up to a maximum of 365 days (52 weeks), essentially accruing one day痴 benefit for every four days of contributions. It was of concern that the waiting period for benefits was so long and it was recommended that this must be shortened.

My Claim Mate is a UIF-registration Agency who outlined that it assists people _ often women _ in making claims and thus reduces the administrative burden on the UIF. It charges fees and was concerned that the disallowance for businesses to charge fees for assisting claimants would act to cripple several small businesses and force them also to retrench their staff, as well as being in conflict with section 22 of the Constitution. The Agency proposed that the Department needed regulation when dealing with issues of UIF, and this could be done in a similar way to tax regulation by South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Other points made were whether this public hearing would change anything if the Bill had already been approved at NEDLAC, but the Committee Chairperson was at pains to point out that serious consideration would be given to all proposals. It was suggested that government and employee contributions should be increased and stronger checks on compliance. Toll free numbers and naming and shaming were suggested. Public Investment Corporation (PIC) should vet the companies that are given businesses. Another suggestion was for the extension of days of leave for family responsibilities. On some suggestions the Chairperson also pointed out that the submissions should be made directly to the Department where they did not concern the content of the Bill. My Claim Mate wanted to address the concerns and said the Agency was not enriching itself, but the Chairperson said that presenters were not here to debate amongst themselves but to present. A suggestion was made that maternity benefits should be increased to 90%. A suggestion was made that the PIC, instead of focusing only on job creation, might consider contributing to education funding, and another that its resources should be directed to opening more labour centres. 

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks

The Chairperson noted that in this public hearing there would be a translation of IsiXhosa and Afrikaans for all the presentations and discussions in the meeting. She noted an apology from Mr Thobile Lamati, Director-General of the Department of Labour (DoL or the Department).

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) submission

Mr Matthew Parks, COSATU Parliamentary Officer, indicated that COSATU strongly welcomes and supports the correct and progressive objectives and intentions of the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill, and urged that it be adopted as a matter of urgency. Despite its general support, there was also a strong objection to one clause in the Bill affecting women who had abortions. COSATU requests that this clause be removed from the Bill. 

He noted that his submission would also touch on some areas not currently covered by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). COSATU strongly supports the Bill’s progressive objectives to:

  • Increase UIF benefits from 238 to 365 days.
  • Increase maternity leave benefits to 66%.
  • Cover workers who lost working hours due to reduced time at their work place.
  • Separate maternity from UIF benefits and claims.
  • Not exclude workers from UIF and maternity leave benefits if they are members of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF).
  • Include women who had miscarriages during the third trimester or a still born birth.
  • Allow the family and/ or nominated beneficiary of deceased claimant to receive their benefits.
  • Prohibit the charging of fees by any party to a UIF claimant.
  • Allow the Minister for Labour to issue regulations for domestic workers and employees of small businesses and enterprises to ensure that they are covered.

COSATU believes that the above provisions in the Bill are progressive, in line with the spirit of the Constitution, will benefit numerous vulnerable workers and help them protect and provide for their families. Most workers who lose their jobs take at least two years to find new work.  The increase in UIF benefits from 8 to 12 months is a significant step in this regard particularly critical when thousands of mine workers are losing their jobs on a weekly basis. Increasing benefits for maternity leave will help mothers cope with the costs of having a baby and their reduction in income. Including miscarriages in their third trimester is a progressive step to help women cope with the physical and psychological trauma of a miscarriage or still birth.

COSATU also supports the proposal to allow the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to invest surplus UIF funds. However, this must be done in support of investments which create and protect jobs. They cannot simply be done for the sake of profit alone.

Mr Parks said that COSATU had engaged on this Bill extensively at National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) in 2013 who appreciates the open and constructive approach that the Department of Labour took in these engagements.  These assisted all parties to gain a better understanding of different constituencies’ concerns and needs, and to further strengthen the Bill and its progressive objectives.

Mr Parks highlighted that the NEDLAC Act and Protocol binds government not to substantially change a Bill after the NEDLAC engagements have concluded and before the Bill is tabled in Parliament. Unfortunately, this had happened. The Bill tabled before Parliament includes a new clause 10(b)(7) on page 4, which was not tabled or engaged upon at NEDLAC.  The Department did not inform the social partners at NEDLAC of this new clause. This clause states “Subsection (5) does not apply to a contributor who voluntarily terminated her pregnancy”. In other words, the new progressive provision for women who experienced a miscarriage in the third trimester or a still birth, would be excluded if they voluntarily had an abortion. COSATU strongly opposed this insertion and called for its removal on the basis that it was not part of the Bill as originally engaged upon and it is irrelevant and unnecessary as the Bill stipulates that the criteria to claim maternity leave benefits are to have given birth, a still birth or a miscarriage in the third trimester. A specific exclusion for persons who had abortions is redundant.  It also flies against the principles and spirit of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act which champions the right for women to control and make their own decisions about their bodies and pregnancies.  This Act has detailed provisions with regards to health, safety, dignity, time frames and choice with regards to abortions, and this was not within the purview or mandate of the UIF.  Abortions are an extremely emotional, moral, religious, judgment and personal matter. If the Department does not support the current Termination of Pregnancy Act, then it must raise that at Cabinet and with the Department of Health and request that Act to be amended.  It must not try to “smuggle such a value laden judgment” into the UIF Bill. It must also be remembered that one of the key purposes on the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was to empower women to make their own decisions in a safe, protected, healthy environment and to remove the hostile legal framework which drove so many vulnerable women to dangerous and often deadly back street abortions in the past. If this clause remained it would send out a wrong and potentially dangerous message to vulnerable and fearful women that they will be punished or discriminated against for having an abortion

COSATU also expressed concern about the fact that several key areas are not covered by the UIF, including resignations, seasonal workers ( many farm workers who only work during certain periods of the year), informal sector workers (such as taxi drivers); paternity, parental and adoption leave; and short time workers. These areas were not engaged upon or included in this Bill during the NEDLAC engagements as the Department of Labour wanted to ensure that the Bill was adopted by Parliament during the first half of 2014. Unfortunately this did not happen. The Department has agreed to start engagements at NEDLAC on how to cover these areas in the UIF. These engagements are scheduled to commence shortly but, due to the need to conduct actuarial and cost studies, this may take some time.

In the meantime, Mr Parks reiterated that COSATU supports this Bill’s urgent passage as it will immediately benefit hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and impoverished workers, especially in the mining sector, and mothers and women.

South African Workers’ Unions (CONSAWU) submission
Mr Wilson Bony, Member of CONSAWU, said the main concern of this organisation was the fact that the Bill had excluded the employable workers like unemployed graduates from being potential beneficiaries to the UIF. There was also a strong belief that workers, especially those who are vulnerable and those that had lost employment, should be given 100% assistance for the income that had been lost. The Bill should provide that families that had lost a breadwinner must be able to be assisted for their lifetime. In essence, the Organisation strongly supported the Bill in its current form but pleaded that it should be able to accommodate the vulnerable workers who are often impacted by the fluctuating and precarious economy.

My Claim Mate submission

Mr Klaus Arnhard, Owner of UIF-Hero, indicated that the Agency was responsible for providing service to pregnant women and those that had just given birth, with the aim of accessing the UIF. The Agency also assisted the clients with questions they may have around the claim and the completion of the UIF forms to be submitted to the Department of Labour. The Agency also does a follow up to ensure that all the claims that had been submitted are correctly captured and approved.

He said there are a number of positive aspects that had been included in the Bill and these included the extension of the submission period from six months to 12 months, the increase of the maternity leave benefits by 66% and the ability of those that had a miscarriage to make a claim for the UIF.

However, the Agency was particularly concerned by the amendment of Section 33(3) of Act 63 of 2001, which stated that: “When processing application for benefits neither the Fund not any agency or person purporting to act on behalf of the application may charge any fee against the applicant”. The Agency believed that this amendment was likely to cripple small businesses like My Claim Mate, and UIF-Hero which are mainly dependent on the fee that is charged to the clients. This proposed amendment would also have negative repercussions as the Agency would be compelled to retrench some of the people that it had employed. The country was already facing high unemployment and it could not afford to see an additional number of people being retrenched and the stifling of entrepreneurship. The Agency was not only assisting its clients but also the Department of Labour, especially in the processing of the bulk of the claims. It takes about 3 minutes for a claim to be submitted to the Department of Labour by his Agency, compared to other organisations that could take up to about 20 minutes. The assistance that is provided to pregnant women for the processing of UIF claims has significantly reduced the number of claims that the Department has to process from scratch. Mr Arnhard highlighted that the Agency was not targeting the vulnerable but the middle to high income earners who can afford to pay the fee to be assisted with the processing of a claim. The clients are made aware that the Agency was not in any way affiliated to the Department of Labour. He further added that the proposed amendment was also contrary to Section 22 of the Constitution: The right to freedom of trade, occupation or profession.

The Agency was proposing that the Department needed to have regulation when dealing with issues of UIF and this could be done in a similar way to tax regulations by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The employers should be compliant, by submitting employment declarations on time and this would once again reduce all the delays in the processing of claims.

The Agency thus was requesting the Department to remove the amended Section 33(3) of Act 63 of 2001 and only allow agencies who do maternity claims to help the clients.   

National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) submission

Mr Tony Franks, Representative, NACTU, noted the Council's appreciation that the Department had made great strides to assist in the protection of the interests of workers. The Council was in support of the proposed amendments in the Bill, especially when considering the economic climate in the country, where workers are consistently retrenched. The Council was particularly supportive of amendments made to Section 13 of Act 63 of 2001 and the extension of days of claim from 238 to 365 days. The Department needed to ensure that there was a monitoring of the four year cycle for the claimants to receive benefits for 365 days. It was impossible to predict the state of global economy, especially when taking into cognisance the increase in inflation rate, fuel price and the decline in the value of the rand.  

The Council was also in support of the 66% increase of maternity leave benefits as outlined in the amendment of Section 12(b) of Act 63 of 2001.The Council supported the amended version of section 33(3) of Act 63 of 2001, as the processing of the claims was the responsibility of the Department of Labour that was offered free of charge.

NACTU suggested that there should be a review of the penalties that are imposed upon employers who had defaulted in payment of UIF funds, so as to encourage compliance. NACTU believed that the process of endorsing the Bill had been concluded as NEDLAC was also strongly in favour of the amendments that had been introduced.      

National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) submission

Ms Prakashnee Govender, NUMSA Parliamentary Officer, noted that the Union was in support of the Bill, particularly given that the official unemployment rate in the country rose to 25.5% in the third quarter of 2015, whilst unemployment as per the expanded definition (including the encouraged work seekers) was considerably higher at 34.9%. However, since the Bill is based on the contributory insurance, it could have only minimal redistributive effects as its beneficiaries were limited to those who had been employed in the formal sector. It was of concern that vulnerable workers and those in the informal sector had been excluded from the Bill. The repeated periods of unemployment means that even those who have contributed to the UIF may exhaust their rights to unemployment benefits and consequently will be subjected to waiting periods before being able to once again claim benefits.

NUMSA was cognisant of the fact that the Bill had been considered at NEDLAC as reflected in the Memorandum. However, there are serious concerns regarding the lapse in time between the completion of the NEDLAC process in 2013 and the inexplicable delay in the tabling of the Bill in Parliament. This has had a knock-on effect of delaying other further reviews of the Unemployment Insurance Act that had been agreed to as part of the NEDLAC process.

Some key deferred proposals were not reflected in the Bill and these included the following:

  • Removing the exclusion of unemployment benefits for those who had resigned from employment, as opposed to being retrenched or dismissed
  • Extending the benefits to workers who have fixed-term or seasonal contracts as well as those in the informal sector
  • Alignment of the review process with the draft comprehensive social security policies
  • Addressing administrative blocks preventing asylum seekers from claiming unemployment benefits, such as the refusal of the DHA to issue identity numbers

Ms Govender added that NUMSA was calling for the deletion of amendments proposed under clause 4 and sub-clause 10(b) of the Bill, as neither of these were included in the version of the Bill that was considered at NEDLAC, or made subject to public comment later, despite their problematic content. There was also a concern about the exclusion of maternity benefits for women who have voluntarily terminated a pregnancy. The legal termination of pregnancies has been available in South Africa since 1997 through the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act  and this is a public policy choice that emphasises a woman’s right to choose and make a decision about her reproductive health.

She concluded that whilst NUMSA was in support of the bulk of the Bill, reflecting the extent of consensus that was reached at NEDLAC, there was a need for the Department to reconsider all the concerns that had been flagged by NUMSA.

Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) submission

Ms Riefdah Ajam, FEDUSA Parliamentary Officer, stated that the Federation largely welcomed the proposals in principle. In light of the proposed amendments, FEDUSA would insist that sound administration of UIF remains pivotal to ensure that its long-term sustainability is not threatened or compromised, and so that the intended vulnerable beneficiaries are not faced with any undue deprivation. These amendments, aimed at improving the service delivery of the UIF, have several important implications for both employers and employees. With South Africa’s high unemployment rates and a significant number of job losses and retrenchments experienced in the last couple of years, the UIF plays a critical role in providing income support to the unemployed workers and it is a vehicle for payment of benefits to retrenched workers, those who take maternity leave or otherwise become entitled to benefit.

The UIF is designed to deal with frictional or short-term unemployment. In view of the current levels of unemployment and the significant reduction in employment due to the impact of the global economic crisis and other external factors, much dependency has been placed on the Fund during the last few years. Given the challenging economic environment and the downward revision in economic growth as a result of these factors, the Federation welcomes the extension of unemployment insurance to public servants, to ensure the continued sustainability and viability of the UIF. This proactive approach will likewise ensure that the counter-effects of the proposed extension of the payment period for beneficiaries from eight months to one year will not cause undue strain on the Fund. Government employees and fixed term workers who are required to leave South Africa on expiration of their terms will now also benefit from the UIF, and this was seen as a pleasing extension to cover categories of workers.

The UIF has 8.5 million registered contributors; the Fund has a surplus of R72.3 billion and a net asset of R90.4 billion. FEDUSA believed it would be imperative to utilise the UIF to support the creation of decent work vital for rapid inclusive economic growth, through investments instruments (Bonds) of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) which in turn provided funding to both existing and start-up businesses.

FEDUSA agreed with the assertion that Section 13(3) of the UI Act is out of line with Schedule 2, where a contributor is eligible to receive one day’s benefit for every six completed days of employment, up to a maximum of 238 days (34 weeks). Given the changing nature of work, and with due cognisance for contractual and probationary periods in particular, FEDUSA is of the opinion that the eligible benefit must be revised up to a maximum of 365 days (52 weeks), essentially accruing one day’s benefit for every four days of contributions. This upward revision would make provision for all different classes and categories of workers, to ensure that they were not deprived of accruing credits and accessing the maximum benefits due.

Ms Ajam added that the provision of benefits to contributors who lose part of their income due to the reduction in the working times is openly welcomed by FEDUSA. Economic instability and the scarcity of jobs continue to pose major challenges for ordinary South African citizens. The extension of benefits will permit many struggling families to remain afloat during the difficult periods following a job loss for an income earner or breadwinner. The extension period for dependents to apply for benefits on behalf of the deceased, from six months to 18 months, is a welcome gesture by government. The insertion of a new provision allowing contributors to nominate their beneficiaries in cases of death benefits is likewise a proactive approach to streamlining and simplifying the administrative process linked to the payout of death benefits and this empathetic approach would heighten accessibility.   

FEDUSA did want to note its dissatisfaction with the fact that payout of benefits remains an unresolved issue. Effective administration and monitoring of the system requires serious intervention as the current two month waiting period for accessing benefits is disheartening. For a person to lose his or her job was traumatic enough but it was deeply demoralising to be deprived of benefits whilst having creditors come knocking at your door. This matter must be addressed with haste, as the prevailing economic situation could see a marked increase in recipients needing to access their unemployment benefits.

FEDUSA would strongly urge government to review the current status of the non-payment of benefits as a result of resignations. Although the legislative landscape in the country had been praised for its proactive stance in embracing sound labour relations, many workers are faced with continually difficult circumstances in their workplaces. Domestic workers and vulnerable sectors, desperate to secure limited employment opportunities are therefore faced with frustrating circumstances and no hope of accessing benefits.

Ms Ajam concluded that FEDUSA embraced the forward-thinking approach by Government to advance the prospects of safeguarding unemployment benefits. Fine tuning of the U-Filing system should also be finalised, so that accessibility, streamlining and simplification of the system can be realised, as the site is hampered by continued inaccessibility and user unfriendliness. However, FEDUSA would also encourage the Department of Labour to stage extensive road-shows to raise awareness and popularise the various initiatives that have been put in place. Employers should take added responsibility to equip their employees with the information required to access their benefits. It was imperative that the ideals of “Decent Work and Decent Life For All” prevail and resonate throughout this legislative framework, to ensure that the safety and security of the country.

South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) submission

Ms Sindi Ningiza, Organiser, SADSAWU, said that the contribution of UIF to the domestic workers was still too little for the low scheduled wages. SADSAWU believed that the current legislation should be amended so that the UIF benefits could be extended to the domestic workers who are unemployed. The benefits that are paid for maternity leave should also be adjusted accordingly, putting priority on the health of the pregnant woman and the child. The employer’s contribution and government contribution to the UIF should be increased by 2.5%, in order to ensure that the domestic workers are taken care of and are able to elevate their standard of living. She reminded the Committee that domestic workers are often the sole bread winners in many families and therefore their benefits also needed to be expanded to alleviate poverty. SADSAWU was concerned that many employers were still not registering their domestic workers for UIF, often because most of the domestic workers tended to be underpaid, and this was contravening the right of workers and the existing labour laws. 

The Department was also not doing enough to ensure that the rights of domestic workers were protected, and this had opened the door for further abuse and exploitation of domestic workers in the country. SADSAWU was proposing that the penalty for the failure to register the domestic workers for UIF should be increased and the monitoring of this should be prioritised. The Department should have a specific desk and group of inspectors who are specifically tasked with monitoring the implementation of the protection of rights of vulnerable workers. The Department should also ensure that the employers who had failed to comply with these proposed regulations should be subjected to jail sentences, as the domestic workers also contribute to the economy of South Africa.

Discussion

Mr Mhleli Mbana, Member of South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers (SACCAW), wanted to know if the public hearing was likely to change anything, as NACTU had already stated that the Bill was fully endorsed by NEDLAC. SACCAW was also in support of the amendment of Section 33 of Act 63 of 2001, as it was opportunistic for agencies to charge vulnerable workers an application fee for submitting forms for UIF benefits. The increase of the contribution by employers and government should be increased, not only for domestic workers but also other vulnerable workers like farm workers, taxi drivers and those in the hospitality industry. There should be regulation in place to ensure that there was compliance on the registering of workers for UIF benefits.

Mr Mbana suggested that the Department should begin exploring other measures that could be used to encourage compliance to the labour laws, and these included the setting up of toll-free numbers and the naming and shaming of employers that are still avoiding the registration of their workers for UIF benefits. It was clear that most restaurants and hotel owners still preferred to employ foreigners instead of local South Africans, in order to avoid the registration and payment for UIF benefits. The call for UIF benefits to be extended to workers that had resigned was strongly supported by SACCAW, as most people resigned for compelling reasons. The UIF benefits should also cover those who had voluntarily terminated pregnancy, as often this happened because women would be unable to support another child. The Public Investment Corporation (PIC) should vet the companies that are given businesses, so as to avoid giving business functions to unscrupulous agencies that showed contempt for the rights and the Constitution.

Mr Musa Nikane, Member, South African Transport and Allied Workers (SATAWU), indicated that COSATU had correctly captured the essence of most trade unions' submissions, as its report was comprehensive and well-researched. SATAWU was in full support of the amendment of Section 33 of Act 63 of 2001, as it was impossible to privatise the entities of Department of Labour. He suggested that it was “insulting” for NACTU to say that there was no need for further engagement or consultation on the Bill because NEDLAC had already endorsed the Bill. It was important that consideration be given to the extension of the days of leave for family responsibilities so as to allow workers who would be travelling far to have an adequate time to be with their families. SADSAWU was correct that there should be a heavy penalty imposed on employers who failed to registers their workers for UIF benefits. It must be appreciated that NUMSA had managed to approach the Bill from the historical context, but he felt that it was not correct to call for the deletion of section 11(1)(a) of the Act, which will provide the Minister with the discretion to designate the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner or any other official of the UIF or the Department as the accounting authority.      

The Chairperson assured everyone that there was no need to be concerned about the fact that NEDLAC had already reached the required consensus on the Bill now tabled. The Committee would not waste the funds of Parliament by calling for a public hearing if it did not intend to take full consideration of all the inputs that had been made by various labour unions and other agencies. Members of the Committee and the Department would still sit together and deliberate on all the contributions that had been made and find a way forward.

Ms Thembela Dakuse, Member of SATAWU, appreciated the amendments that had been effected by the Department, so as to improve the lives of workers in the country. The Committee should be commended for asking various labour unions to make their contributions on the proposed amendments. SATAWU was in support of the proposal to increase the benefits for maternity leave to 66%. However, there was also a strong belief that the benefits for maternity leave should be increased to 100% in the near future. It was disappointing that the Department had included the clause limiting the benefits for pregnant women who had voluntarily terminated their pregnancy.

Ms Dakuse added that SATAWU was in full support of the amended section 33(3), as the country could not allow capitalistic agencies to exploit vulnerable people by requiring them to pay for services that are offered free by the Department. The principle of payment to process a claim with the UIF was  discriminatory in nature, as the target market was indicated to be both middle and upper class. South Africa is a society that was still grappling to eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote equality. The investment that is made by companies for the UIF should be able to contribute positively in the creation of job opportunities and other social security programmes like the building of free houses in Marikana. Those employers that are still avoiding the registration of their workers should be compelled to pay heavy penalties so as to improve compliance.

She too felt it was uncalled-for for NUMSA to call for the deletion of section 11(1)(a), which will provide the Minister with the discretion to designate the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner or any other official of the UIF or the Department as the accounting authority. The appointment of the accounting authority is intended to ensure the overall regulation of the UIF. It must be remembered that it is the Minister who is accounting to Parliament and who is responsible for ensuring that the Department was operating smoothly and transparently, and must therefore have that discretion.

Ms Majola, Member of ANC in Chris Hani Branch: Khayelitsha, mentioned that Ms Dakuse had already covered most of the points she wanted to make. It was disappointing to hear of cases where the employers would register their workers for UIF benefits but not give them the UIF cards to claim those benefits. She cited the case of one woman in Khayelitsha who had worked as a domestic worker for 32 years but could not access the UIF benefits because her employer had been keeping the UIF card. There should indeed be a desk in the Department that would specifically deal with all the enquiries related to UIF benefits.

Mr Luntu Sokuthu, Member of Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was vehemently opposed to those who seek to maximise profit at the expense of other people’s misery. It was clear that there are agencies who are only interested in making profit rather than seeing to the well-being of others. This was similar to the Road Accident Fund (RAF) where the claimants would get small amount of compensation while lawyers benefited the most. The Department should not allow agencies to claim payment from those who want to submit claims for UIF benefits. He too agreed with SADSAWU that there should be a heavy penalty on employers that had failed to register their domestic workers for UIF benefits. Domestic workers were being exploited largely because the industry in which they operated made exploitation easy, for they did not have unions who could intervene where there was contempt for existing labour laws.

Mr Sokuthu maintained that even some of Members of Parliament that had domestic workers were also reluctant to register them for UIF benefits. Workers who had resigned should also be able to access the UIF benefits; resignations were usually for valid reasons such as finding better employment. He also agreed that it was disappointing for the Department to exclude benefits from women who had voluntarily terminated their pregnancy. This clearly showed that society was still dominated by a patriarchal understanding, and he stressed that women should be given freedom to decide on what to do with their reproductive health.

Mr Sokuthu said it was not correct for NUMSA to conflate political intervention with political interference, as the Minister must be given the discretion to designate an appropriate official as the accounting authority, and NUMSA should provide cogent reasons for suggesting otherwise. He maintained that this provision should remain unaltered.

Mr Llowellyn Domingo, General Secretary, National Certificated Fishing and Allied Workers Union (NCFAWU), stated the proposed amendment of section 11(1)(a) was likely to favour everyone, as there would be more people attending to the public need. NCFAWU welcomed the proposed amendment to section 12(5)(a) as it meant that a UIF contributor who had lost income due to reduced working time, despite still being employed, would be allowed to benefit from UIF. Similarly, the amendments to section 13(b) were welcomed as these meant that the contributor could now make a UIF claim regardless of whether or not the contributor had made a claim in the previous four year cycle, and this would greatly help those who were unemployed. NCFAWU also welcomed the extension of the period of termination of contract of employment from six months to 12 months as this would allow trade unions to assist their members or the family of the deceased member to process claims for the UIF benefits. The Department should retain the amendments to section 33(3) as the employed should not create jobs out of the unemployed.

Mr Arnhard wanted to set the record straight, that My Claim Mate (UIF-Hero) prioritised on assisting pregnant women with the processing of UIF claims. The Agency was not enriching itself but provided assistance to pregnant women so that they could spend more time on the well-being of their babies rather than having to worry about the submission of claims for UIF benefits.

The Chairperson interjected and pointed out that the Committee would not allow the presenters to respond to the questions or comments that had been made in the public hearing, as the intention of the gathering today was to hear all the voices, and not to debate issues.

Mr Bongile Zanazo, Community Leader in Khayelitsha, stated that the Department should not allow “mosquitoes and vampires” to “exploit the poor by enriching themselves”. The Department was already providing free service for the submission of UIF claims and therefore the amendment that had been made for section 33(3) was strongly welcomed. He requested the Department to increase the benefits that are offered for maternity leave from the current 66% to 90% as pregnant women are most vulnerable during the maternity leave. The Bill should also attempt to accommodate the workers in the informal sector, especially the taxi drivers and farm workers. However, he cautioned that government should not allow the situation where surrogate mothers would be given benefits as this was likely to open up a hole for vulnerable young women to be exploited by being surrogates in order to derive these benefits. He believed that it was correct that those that had voluntarily terminated pregnancy should not qualify for the benefits of maternity leave, but this should be limited to cases of miscarriage.   

Mr Monwabisi Mukhwele, Member of Liberated Metalworkers of South Africa (LEMUSA), also supported the suggestions that had been made by SADSAWU, particularly on the penalty to be imposed on employers that had failed to register their domestic workers. There was a need to prevent cases where employers would prefer to hire foreigners with the intention of avoiding the registration and payment of UIF benefits. The Department should perhaps introduce legislation that would make it compulsory for employers to register anyone who is working in South Africa for UIF benefits. The Department should formulate a special task team that would investigate and report all the cases of companies that are not registering their workers for UIF benefits. It was unclear whether the Department was aware of any companies that had not been complying with the registration of workers for UIF benefits.

 

Mr Thando Sidinange, Member of Khayelitsha Youth Development Council (KYDC), expressed disappointment about some of the trade unions and organisations that had only made their presentations, but left without waiting for further engagement. He was opposed to the suggestion that PIC must focus only on job creation, as the country was still battling with education systems that required more funding. The funds that are available from PIC could also be made available to the #feesmustfall movement, so that poor students in tertiary education could be assisted with funding. It was unclear at the moment as to whether it was the responsibility of the Department or the trade unions to collect the data of workers that had not been registered by their employers for UIF benefits. He suggested that the companies that are not paying UIF benefits to their workers should be liquidated, so as to teach other companies valuable lessons for not complying with the existing labour laws.

The Chairperson suggested that matters that are related to labour disputes should be directed to the officials of the Department who are present in the public hearing, as the focus of the gathering today was solely on the Bill. 

Mr Khwezi Mayambela, Khayelitsha Resident, firstly welcomed the proposed amendments that had been introduced by the Department as they are progressive. However, he said that the Department was disappointingly silent on the financial implication of the proposed amendments and whether there was funding available that would ensure that everyone was able to access the UIF benefits in the long run. There was some wonderful work that is being done by PIC to ensure that the investments are able to create job opportunities and reduce poverty. However, it was of concern that the investments were not dedicated towards opening more labour centres in places like Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.

Mr Thobani Moyi, Resident of Cape Winelands, also appreciated the proposed amendments that had been made in the Bill, especially to section 12(a), so that the UIF benefits would also cover workers who had lost working hours due to reduced time at their work place. The proposed amendment that had been made for section 33(3) should be retained but the Department must also improve the service – for instance, offering mobile offices – to make it more convenience for them to make submissions for benefits.

The Chairperson corrected that the proposed amendments in the Bill did not suggest that the seasonal workers would be entitled to UIF benefits for 365 days.

Mr Arnhard clarified once again that the intention and the very existence of agencies such as his had been misinterpreted. The Department did not allow an agency to assist someone who was unemployed. The Agency was therefore only assisting those who could afford to pay for his services. . The clients looked for assistance out of their own free will as the service that he rendered is much needed.

The Chairperson thanked everyone who had attended the public hearing and assured everyone that the Department, together with the Committee, would still deliberate further on the inputs that had been made today.

The meeting was adjourned.  

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