Parental benefits – what has changed?

By Athenkosi Sawutana

Until recently only female contributors were allowed to apply for maternity benefits at the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) when taking parental leave. But this has changed as fathers are now also entitled to some parental benefits when they welcome their child into the family.

In November 2018 President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Labour Laws Amendment Bill into law, amending the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) to include new paternity leave regulations. This law came into effect on 01 November 2019. But what do we know about these amendments?

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Benefit payment for the parental benefits is for a maximum of 10 days

The Labour Laws Amendment Act states that an employee, who is a parent of a child, is entitled to at least ten consecutive days of parental leave. This means that both mothers and fathers are entitled to parental leave when their child is born. This doesn’t change anything regarding female employees’ rights to maternity leave. They are still entitled to four months leave when they give birth.

According to the law, employers don’t have an obligation to pay employees for the time taken off and employees can return to work earlier if they want to.

The amendments also make provisions for adoptive parents and commissioning parents

Employees who are adoptive parents can also take 10 weeks’ leave and their leave can start on the day the adoption is granted. If an adoption order is made in respect of two adoptive parents, one of the adoptive parents may apply for adoption leave and the other adoptive parent may apply for the parental leave. The same applies to commissioning parents in a surrogate motherhood who can take their leave the day their child is born.

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The UIF benefit can be up to 66% of the employee’s salary

Parental benefits must be paid at a rate of 66% of the earnings of the beneficiary at the date of application, subject to the maximum income threshold. This is up from 58% that beneficiaries used to receive in the past years. However, as a UIF contributor, you’re not entitled to any benefits unless you’ve been employed for at least 13 weeks before the date of application for parental benefits. You must submit your applications within 12 months after the date of childbirth, the date the court grants you the adoption order, or the date the child is placed in your care as a prospective adoptive parent by a competent court, pending the finalisation of an adoption order in respect of the child.

What does this mean for new fathers?

Fathers will have time to bond with their new babies whilst having an income through the parental benefit, says Makhosonke Buthelezi, director of communication and marketing at the Department of Labour.

It’s important to mention that this benefit will only be available to those who are registered with the UIF as contributors and whose contributions are paid monthly to the UIF, he adds.

Are employers obliged to grant leave to employees?

This is a tricky one as legislation governing the granting of leave falls under the ambit of the Department of Employment and Labour, says Buthelezi.

“Amendments to the BCEA need to be effected first before you can safely say employers are obliged by law to grant leave, and my understanding is that the department is at the advanced stage of the amendments,” he says.

However, Buthelezi says the UIF is in a position to process parental benefit claims if the employer provides it with the requisite information in the prescribed forms.

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