The Black Sash supports the call by UIF Commissioner Boas Seruwe to lengthen the period of benefit for claimants in an effort to cushion the blow for the tens of thousands of workers who are expected to lose their jobs this year.
We are not surprised by his forecast that UIF claims will rise by at least 15 percent in 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis. But considering the fund’s large accumulated surplus of R15 billion, it would seem appropriate to circulate some of these reserves back to those who have contributed to the fund. After all, the purpose of the insurance fund is not to generate profits but to provide benefits to families when they really need it. As it stands, unemployment insurance is the only source of financial support for the jobless who are too old for the Child Support Grant and not old enough for a pension.
The Black Sash believes the Fund is also in a comfortable position to consider a number of other minor reforms that wouldn’t deplete the surplus but could help put food on the family table for a little longer. For instance, allowing repetitive applications within the same category in a cycle (which is four years) is something that should be explored. At the moment, if a woman has more than one child within any four-year cycle, she only receives 17 weeks maternity benefit in total.
Another area of reform to consider would be paying benefits to certain categories of resignations. At present, you cannot claim your benefits if you resign from your job, but this commonly prejudices women, as their reasons for leaving a job are often linked to their nurturing role (including looking after ill family members, children, and sometimes following life partners who are transferred).
The Black Sash also appeals to the Commissioner to urgently consider a mechanism whereby those working in the informal sector and civil service could participate in the scheme. Currently, unemployment insurance benefits are only paid to authorized and regulated employees (with the exception of civil servants and a few other categories), leaving tens of thousands of workers out of the system and without any form of protection if they lose their job. It is vital that the fund include as many categories as possible, and for informal workers, allowance needs to be made for multiple employers (like with domestic workers) and irregular periods of employment (like with seasonal workers).
Lastly, the Black Sash calls on the Unemployment Fund to take a hard look at the catch-22 situation of migrant workers in South Africa. They are obliged to contribute to the UIF but are unable to claim any benefits when they are retrenched and forced to return to their country of origin. We suggest that Bilateral and Multilateral Agreements must be followed though to ensure that these workers get what they have paid for, and where they don’t exist, should be entered into to remedy this unjust situation.