Discrimination against women workers based on pregnancy and family responsibilities

SACCAWU is deeply concerned about alleged discrimination based on pregnancy as currently is experienced by our women members, in particular during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Women members reported that they are denied Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS), by the Department of Employment and Labour (DE&L) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) benefit due to them, having been on Maternity Leave. Some of the affected members are alleged to have returned to work long before the lockdown whilst some of them have not even been paid their UIF maternity leave benefit during their maternity leave taken prior the lockdown. It is inhumane to deny women members their rightful income at the time they need it most. Some of these women members are in single parent headed households and in a case like this it also denies their family an income, and literally reducing women workers to paupers, if not condemning them to destitution but equally vulnerable from affording any protective means to this deadly virus. This kind of an insult, as we under the circumstances deem it to be; is not immune or different from gender based violence (GBV) the society, led by the State President, claims to be fending off or fighting.    

At a time like this, being in the midst of a crisis, it becomes even more imperative to uphold and implement the principles of gender equality, gender sensitive protection of women workers on maternity leave and enabling workers to raise their families in conditions of security and ability to meet the obligation to fund their families’ wellness.

The conduct of the DE&L and the UIF, if it is correct as alleged, is totally unacceptable and essentially violates the rights of women based on their reproductive role and the legislation that protects women workers from discrimination based on pregnancy.  In this case we refer to the South African Constitution, Employment Equity Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act or relevant pieces of legislation that specifically prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy and gender.

We are mindful of the provisions of Maternity Leave as contained in the different laws, such as the BCEA and UIF prescribe that maternity leave is separate from any other UIF benefit payments. We are also mindful that TERS provisions and TERS regulations do not talk to women having taken maternity leave before lockdown as preventing one from receiving a TERS payment.

The TERS benefit is a special provision due to the crisis/disaster brought about by COVID 19 pandemic and it is totally separate from having taken maternity leave prior to the lockdown or when the TERS was legislated, thus the fact that a woman worker had taken maternity should be immaterial and not up for consideration, let alone discussion.  therefore, women members are entitled to receive payment and it is very problematic that some employers have to return the rejected applications because it means that women workers have to wait without any income in the hope that their application will be accepted. This entitlement is not double dipping of the TERS, and the underlying assumption that it is seen as double dipping is tantamount to discrimination against women workers. The maladministration of both employers and UIF in clearing the UIF maternity register/list on workers commencing duties subsequent to the end of such leave must not be blamed on workers who have no role whatsoever in administration and regulation of UIF regime/system.    

It is very disturbing that women workers who have been put on leave due to their workplace not being an essential service are punished in this fashion and now have to experience triple trauma of job security, loss of income and the impact of COVID 19.

We are also of the view that women currently on maternity leave should be allowed to receive the TERS payment as we are in a unique situation and uncharted terrain as aptly referred to, furthermore the UIF maternity payment is far from adequate especially when they do not receive a maternity leave contributions from the employers, and therefore cannot access any other form of social relief compensation.

Maternity protection is one of the preconditions for achieving genuine equality of opportunity and treatment of women and men at work, and enabling workers to raise families in conditions of comfort, certainty, safety and security. We expected that, in both formulation and application of policies we as the society, but, particularly the State we must ensure that we do not engage in gender-blind practices as same might double negate effects to groups that are already in vulnerable economic crisis state.

Women are workers too, with their children being workers of tomorrow!!!

Issued by SACCAWU Media Unit

Mike Sikani                 Patricia Nyman          Lucas Ramatlhodi

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