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In January 2017, former President Jacob Zuma assented to the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act of 2016, and on 23 November 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Labour Laws Amendment Act of 2018, paving the way for the implementation of the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act from January 2019. The act was amended following extensive consultations with various stakeholders to improve service delivery by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and deliver increased access and benefits for hundreds of thousands of retrenched and dismissed workers, as well as workers and their dependents who qualify for other benefits from the Fund. 

The UIF, as a caring organisation, understands the current economic situation and unemployment in the country, as well as the devastating impact that is appended to losing a job. We are optimistic that the new amendments are poised to ease the financial encumbrance on workers and deliver a variety of new and improved benefits.

The significant amendments for unemployment benefits include:

  • Contributing workers undergoing learnership training in terms of the Skill Development Act will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits once their learnership contract ends;
  • Benefits are paid from the date of unemployment instead of the application date;
  • Workers will have 12 months instead of 6 months to claim for unemployment benefits;
  • Contributors will be able to claim unemployment benefits for up to 365 days, instead of 238 days if they have worked for a continuous four- year’s period;
  • Contributors will be able to claim benefits if they have built up credits regardless of whether or not they have claimed within a four-year circle;
  • Foreign nationals are eligible for benefits;
  • Benefits will be paid to workers who lose income as a result of reduced working times; and
  • Credit days for contributors will accrue faster (1 credit for every 4 days worked instead of the previous 1 credit day for 6 days worked).

These ground-breaking and progressive changes were done in the interests of improving and providing more benefits to workers. The UIF has also reduced the turnaround times in terms of paying beneficiaries because we comprehend that the majority of the workers that claim from us are doing so put food on the table for their families. Our new vision “a caring, accessible, and customer-centric UIF that contributes towards poverty alleviation” also demonstrates our commitment of being compassionate and ensuring that we pay benefits faster and reduce poverty with vim to ensure that workers meet their financial obligations in the event of a claim.

While the UI Amendment Act provides for the inclusion of public servants, they will be excluded in the implementation of the Act at the moment due to consultations with National Treasury, Department of Public Service and Administration, organised labour, and other stakeholders. Section 7, 8, 12, 13,15,16,17 and 18 of the Labour Laws Amendment Act, 2018 (which deals with Paternity leave, amendments to Adoption benefits and Commissioning for Parental Leave) will be implemented on a date still to be determined and approved by the Presidency through the President’s minutes and Proclamation.

Working mothers remain one of our important stakeholders and the cement that holds families together. The new act is clear that maternity benefits must be paid at a 66% fixed rate; an application for maternity benefits can be made 8 weeks prior to the birth of the child or within 12 months after the child is born; a contributor who has a miscarriage during the third trimester or bears a still-born child is entitled to full maternity benefits; and the payment of maternity benefits may not affect the payment of unemployment benefits to – remove unfair discrimination against women for being mothers.

The sudden loss or untimely death of a working breadwinner can be traumatic and fiscally deleterious for any family. The new act has provided for death benefits to be paid in the event of the contributor’s passing, and the application must be made within eighteen months of the breadwinner’s death. The contributor is also permitted to nominate their beneficiaries for death benefits if there is no surviving spouse, life partner or children to claim. This money could be used by the mourning beneficiaries to care for and feed their families. Contributors can also to claim illness benefits from the UIF if they have been sick for 7 consecutive days, instead of the previous 14 days.

The UIF, under the leadership of the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, is devoted to protecting vulnerable workers and the new act has decreed it illegal for any agency or person purporting to act on behalf of an applicant to charge a fee for submitting an application for UIF benefits (all our services are free). The new act also makes provisions for contributors to be entitled to UIF benefits while in receipt of benefits from the Compensation Fund or any other Unemployment Fund established by a Bargaining or Statutory Council.

We value the employers who comply with our legislation because without them and their contributions, the Fund would collapse. We, therefore, urge all employers to submit declarations of their employees on or before the seventh day of each month to the Fund, as pronounced on the new act. Declarations can be submitted online on our uFiling system: www.ufiling.co.za. We require the full declarations with all the workers’ information such as salaries and hours worked on a monthly basis to calculate the accurate contributions that employers must pay to the Fund which is depended on the declarations.

The act further empowers the Unemployment Insurance Board to provide in its constitution for the functions of regional appeals committees in the event of appeals. The Board’s duties also include advising and recommending to the Minister of Labour to approve the funding of schemes that are aimed at financing of the retention of contributors in employment and the re-entry of contributors into the labour market and any other scheme aimed at vulnerable workers. The most recent example is the UIF’s recent investment in Edcon to save thousands of jobs. Another instance

Unemployment remains relatively high, our economy has been rather lethargic which often leads to the UIF receiving pressure to avail its surplus of over R100 billion to support various national and provincial programmes. However, our consistent retort has been that UIF funds cannot be utilised on initiatives that do not support the welfare of workers, lead to job creation or sustain current jobs. For example, last month, we partnered with the Compensation Fund and jointly set aside about R7.9 billion towards the training of 160 000 youth and unemployed people across the country and the projects were officially launched by the Minister in the Presidency and the Minister of Labour. 

While the new UIF act has brought improved benefits and access for workers, I sincerely apologise and admit and that long queues at some labour centres across the country have been a challenge for our claimants. In this regard, we are working around the clock to fast-track the implementation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) projects, as they are key drivers of service delivery. Last month, we modernised and launched our uFiling system to enable workers to submit their claims online and employers to submit their declarations online amongst others. Soon we will be announcing a number of exciting ICT projects for implementation to improve service delivery for our clients and stakeholders. We are also fast-tracking the process of installing a tech-savvy and efficient Queue Management System at all labour centres across the country to improve service for our clients and put an end to long queues. 

To obtain more information about the Unemployment Insurance Fund, kindly visit your nearest Labour Centre, contact the UIF Call Centre (012) 337 1680 or toll-free number 0800 843 843. Alternatively, you may log onto the Department of Labour website: www.labour.gov.za or uFiling website www.ufiling.co.za 

Teboho Maruping is the Commissioner of the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

This post is sponsored, provided and paid for by the Department of Employment and Labour. ( Taken from News24 Website)

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