Calls for maternity benefits to be extended to women working in informal sector

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Jul 23, 2021

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Johannesburg - The body responsible for legal reforms in the country has recommended the extension of maternity benefits to women working in the informal economy.

Currently, only women in formal employment were eligible for at least four consecutive months of maternity leave. This is paid leave and the expecting mothers receive part payments from their employers and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

It amounts to unfair discrimination that the maternal benefits were only extended to formally employed women, the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) has said in a discussion paper it published this week.

“A gap currently exists in the state’s social protection system, in that self-employed workers in the informal economy are excluded from receiving maternity and parental benefits when the mother enters confinement,” said the discussion paper.

“This situation exacerbates the socio-economic problems of poverty and inequality between women and men, prevents women’s full economic participation, and impacts on their reproductive choices.”

The SALRC’s discussion paper follows work that began in 2017 to find ways to extend maternity benefits to women who are self-employed and employed in informal sectors.

Cash transfers to pregnant women have been in place for years in countries such as Mozambique and Nigeria.

The SALRC recommended that South Africa’s UIF system should be extended to workers in the informal economy.

“This will bring informal economy self-employed workers into a social security system as envisaged in section 27(2) of the Constitution,” said the discussion paper.

The commission held workshops in parts of the country ahead of publishing the discussion paper.

An informal trader, named Ms Zuma in the discussion paper, told a workshop in Durban that it was common for her colleagues who are breadwinners to go back to work just three days after childbirth.

She said the eThekwini Municipal Informal Economic Forum even made a request to the municipality to establish a fund that would assist informal traders in such positions.

Data from Statistics SA showed that 6.6% of 1.07 million female workers in the informal sector fell pregnant in 2015. The figure went down to 6.3% in 2018, pointed out the SALRC.

A study by the Wits University based Southern Centre for Inequality Studies estimated 96 000 women in informal employment may be eligible for maternity cash transfers annually.

It found that if the cash transfers were pegged at R1 854 a month, the public purse would pay out R713 million over four months.

The Star

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