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Parliament finally approves legislation to improve unemployment benefits

| Economic factors

The long and tortuous process of getting Parliament to pass the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill came to an end with its adoption by the National Council of Provinces.

The legislation improves benefits for jobless workers and will put to some use the R120bn surplus sitting in the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

The period for which UIF benefits can be claimed has been increased from eight to 12 months. And public servants are included under the UIF for the first time.

Maternity benefits are improved and maternity benefits and claims are treated separately from other UIF benefits and claims.

The draft bill was first discussed in the National Economic Development and Labour Council in 2013 and tabled in Parliament in March 2014. It fell off the table because of the general election and had to be retabled in October last year.

The National Assembly adopted the bill in May and then there was another long delay as Parliament went into recess for the local government elections.

Cosatu parliamentary liaison officer Matthew Parks said on Wednesday the union federation supported the bill as "a major victory that will benefit millions of workers. The federation has fought long and hard for this victory."

The federation called on President Jacob Zuma to sign the bill into law urgently — before the end of next month — to help impoverished and retrenched workers, mothers on maternity leave and their families.

Parks said Cosatu wanted UIF benefits to be extended to workers who resign from jobs and informal sector and self-employed workers (such as taxi drivers) and also to cover paternity, parental and adoption leave.

"Government has agreed to Cosatu’s demand to further negotiations with Cosatu at Nedlac on how to expand access to the UIF to cover these missing areas," Parks said.

Parliament’s labour portfolio committee is considering the Labour Laws Amendment Bill to provide paternity and adoption leave benefits.

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