Life can be unpredictable, and often circumstances outside of our control lead to unfortunate outcomes, such as being retrenched or being let go because of company restructuring, for instance. Naturally, many people literally cannot afford to be unemployed for an extended time, and with job scarcity on the rise, it is becoming more and more difficult to transition from one job to another. Being unemployed can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful.
To help reduce the potentially devastating effects of not having an income, South Africa has an Unemployment Insurance Fund from which workers can claim for some time (more in this a little later).
Primarily, the fund offers short-term financial assistance to workers when they become unemployed or are unable to work because of illness, maternity or adoption leave. The fund also assists dependants of a contributing worker who has died.
Essentially, it’s meant to be a financial safety net for South Africans.
How is the UIF Funded?
Every employee pays 1% of their salaries to the fund, and employers match that 1% so that there is a monthly 2% contribution. The onus falls on employers to make sure all workers are registered with the UIF, and they have to make sure that an employee’s contribution is deducted from their salary every month. If an employee has been registered and the contributions are paid, then that employee will be able to claim from the fund. The employee does not need a card or any other proof that they have contributed to the UIF.
An employee doesn’t have to contribute to a UIF if:
- they are employed for less than 24 hours a month with a specific employer
- their contract came about as part of a Skills Development Act initiative
- they are an employee in the national or provincial Government
- they are a traditional healer or member of a municipal council
It’s illegal for employers to:
- Take more that 1 % of an employee’s salary for UIF
- Deduct a larger percentage from salaries if they fall behind with UIF payments
- Charge employees for deducting UIF as if it is an additional service
Note: If, for any reason, an employer accidentally deducts too much money at the end of the month, they must pay it back to the employee(s).
Who is eligible to claim from the UIF?
All workers who contributed to the UIF can claim if they have been let go, retrenched, if their contract has expired, or if their employer is bankrupt. Domestic workers who have more than one employer can claim if they lose their job with one of their employers or if an employer passes away. It is also important to note that foreigners who are employed permanently in SA also qualify for UIF.
Recent changes to claims and benefits
The President signed the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act into law in 2018, which is hailed as a victory for workers and a much-welcomed step forward for South Africa.
As financial journalist Maya Fisher-French points out:
- Payment for the unemployment benefit will be for 12 months instead of the current eight months.
- Maternity benefit will be paid at a flat rate of 66% instead of the current sliding scale of between 38% and 60%.
- The period within which to submit claims is increased from 6 months to 12 months for unemployment, maternity, illness, and adoption benefits. For death benefit, you can file a claim within 18 months.
- Public servants and people in learnerships are going to be able to contribute to and claim from UIF.
- Workers who work for reduced hours or short time will be able to claim for the lost hours.
How to lodge a UIF unemployment claim
The first step is going to a department of labour office to sign an unemployment register. You are then required to return every four weeks to sign the registry again and show that you still need unemployment benefits. The relevant forms are available directly from the department’s offices, or you can download them from labour.gov.za. You will also be given a white card by a UIF officer.
The process doesn’t end there…
- You must ensure that you return to the office on the right date throughout the required four weeks. If you cannot make it due to illness, be sure to take a doctor’s note to the department
- Make sure your white card is signed by the officer on duty to record your visit
When will I start receiving my UIF money?
If everything goes according to plan, you should start receiving your UIF benefit money within eight weeks of registering. Then, the money will be paid into your bank account every four weeks right up until the funds have been depleted. You will also receive a slip that shows you how much money you have received and how much is left.
Are there any other benefits I can claim from UIF?
Yes- there are four other types you can claim for:
Illness benefits: If you cannot work because you are sick and you have been booked off for two weeks, you could be eligible. The benefits will be paid from the starting date of when you stopped working.
Maternity benefits: You are entitled to claim while on maternity leave, and can claim for up to 17 weeks of your pregnancy. In the tragic case of a miscarriage, you can claim for 6 weeks after. What’s more, once the paternity leave amendments are officially signed into law, fathers will be entitled to 10 days leave and claim up to 66% of their earnings from the UIF.
Adoption benefits: If the adopted child in younger than two years of age and you are receiving less money while on adoption leave, you can claim benefits. Do note: only one parent can claim adoption benefits over this period.
Death benefits: The spouse or child under 18 of a person who has passed away can claim for death benefits, provided that the deceased contributed to a UIF fund.
When can I NOT claim?
The fund is reserved for anyone who have involuntarily lost their job or who cannot work due to pregnancy, illness or death of an immediate family member.
This means that you cannot claim if:
- You were suspended from your job because you committed fraud or another criminal act;
• You voluntarily quit your job;
• You refused required training or advice;
• You already qualify for a benefit from an unemployment fund under the Labour Relations Act; and
• You are already receiving benefits from any other scheme established by the Labour Relations Act.
Eight top tips that will help you get through registering for UIF at the Department of Labour
- Make sure you have all your documents in order. You don’t want reach the front of the (long) queue only to be told to come back another time
- Try and arrive as early as possible. People often queue from about 5:30am.
- If you didn’t take public transport, make sure you have enough cash you on for parking.
- Dress as comfortable as possible. You don’t want to wait in a seemingly endless queue with a shoes that is too small or a jersey that is too tight.
- Since it is difficult to predict how fast the line will move, and many people stand outside in the early hours of the morning, be sure to bring along an umbrella and warm clothes.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged. Listening to music or playing Candy Crush will help make the wait bearable.
- Pack a snack (or two) and some water.
- Keep calm and wait patiently. A tantrum won’t get you far and you will probably be asked to leave the venue, and then you will have to try again another day.
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