Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities has issued a stern warning to employers about the mistreatment of domestic workers.
This follows reports of a Cape Town domestic worker who was reportedly held against her will and had not been paid her full salary since April 2019.
Committee chairperson Nonhlanhla Ncube-Ndaba said domestic workers are among the most vulnerable occupational groups of people in society.
“Many domestic workers have to face exploitative working conditions, disrespectful treatment, low wages, long hours and few employment benefits.
“The work that is performed by domestic workers is often undervalued because it takes place in the home,” said Ncube-Ndaba.
South Africa officially introduced a national minimum wage in January 2019 to protect workers from unreasonably low wages and promote collective bargaining.
The agreed NMW at National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) is pegged at R20 an hour for major sectors, with the exception of sectors such as farm and domestic workers.
These exceptions include:
- The minimum wage for farm workers will be 90% of R20 per hour (R18 per hour);
- The minimum wage for domestic workers will be 75% of R20 per hour (R15 per hour);
- The minimum wage for workers on an Expanded Public Works Programme is R11 per hour.
The reason for the lower wage is due to the higher risk of unemployment for domestic workers if the minimum wage is too high, National Treasury said in its NWM document.
However, Nedlac social partners have agreed that the farm, forestry and domestic sectors will be brought up to 100% of the NMW within two years, pending research by the National Minimum Wage Commission.
A 2019 report by cleaning company SweepSouth found that there was an increase in the average national domestic worker wage to R2,699 per month after the minimum wage was introduced.
“The fact that the majority of respondents report that they earn between R2,001 and R3,000 a month means that it is probable that most employers are complying with the minimum wage regulations,” it said.
However, the report showed that a combined 41% of respondents indicated that they are earning less than R2,000 a month – well below minimum wage. Just 16% indicated that they earn more than R4,000 a month.
R15 an hour is also simply not enough to feed a family of four with nutritional food they need to live, let alone provide for all the other household expenses that are needed each month, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group.
The group’s 2019 research shows that the cost of feeding a family of four in South Africa ranges from R1,276 per month for core foods, to R2,474 per month for a basic nutritionally complete basket of food.
With bigger families, which is often commonplace in South Africa, these prices can increase to as much as R4,236 per month for a family of seven.
In the group’s working scenarios, PEJD’s data shows that a domestic worker who is paid at least R4,500 a month would at least be left with a surplus after non-negotiable expenses like food, transport and electricity were paid off.
At R4,500 a month, in the working scenario (21 days, 8 hours a day), domestic workers would be paid R27 an hour (R214 a day) – R7 more than the current minimum wage, and R12 more than the current minimum set out for domestic workers.
However, when looking at the typical household expenses that most low-income families need – which includes food, basic insurance, airtime, domestic and hygiene products and school fees – this can easily amount to over R7,600 a month.
Changes on the way?
While domestic workers remain vulnerable, Government and labour unions are currently locked in negotiations around a minimum wage increase.
In January, labour at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) said they wanted wages raised by at least 12.5%.
They argue that this would account for inflation in the three years since an initial agreement was reached on wages, Bloomberg reports.
The groups comprising Cosatu, the country’s biggest labour group, the Federation of Unions of South Africa and the National Council of Trade Unions also requested that farm, domestic and public-sector workers receive higher increases to reduce any possible gaps between their pay and the national minimum wage.