Things are looking up for domestic workers in South Africa

The National Assembly has adopted the Compensation of Injury on Duty Amendment Bill, which brings significant benefits for domestic workers in South Africa.

Once signed into law, the bill will ensure that domestic workers are covered by the Compensation of Injury in Duty Fund for any workplace injury or illness. This will effectively extend support to over a million largely women workers who had been unconstitutionally excluded, said trade federation Cosatu.

Other benefits of the proposed legislation include:

  • An expanded definition of workers’ dependents and beneficiaries to include their spouse(s), children, siblings, parents, and grandparents, thus reflecting South Africa’s cultural norms.
  • Diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the workplace will now be included, providing relief for millions of workers in the mining, security, and other sectors, and women.
  • Introducing a no-fault rule to replace practices in the past that have been abused to deny relief to workers.
  • Providing for stiff penalties for non-compliant employers.

“The National Council of Provinces should now commence its work to ensure that it can adopt the Coida Bill by the end of 2021,” Cosatu said.

“It is critical that it comes into effect at the beginning of 2022. Domestic workers have waited long enough for their rights to a safe working environment to be recognised and enshrined into law. It will provide relief and protection to millions of workers across all sectors of the economy,” Cosatu said.

Higher minimum wage expected

South Africa’s domestic workers are also expected to benefit from a new national minimum wage in 2022.

Cosatu said that domestic workers had already benefited from the passing of the National Minimum Wage Act in 2019. More should benefit in 2022 when domestic workers salaries are increased to 100% of the National Minimum Wage.

As of March 2021, the minimum wage in South Africa is R21.69 for each working hour. However, domestic workers are currently seen as an exception under the National Minimum Wage Act and are entitled to a minimum wage of R19.09 per hour.

The national minimum wage commission said that ideally, a national minimum wage should apply to all employees across the country and irrespective of sector.

To avoid excessive disruption, however, the Minimum Wage Act established lower minimums for farm and domestic workers, with a process of gradual equalisation to the national minimum wage over time.

The commission has since recommended that the minimum wage of domestic workers be increased to 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021 and 100% in 2022.

This adjustment of the minimum wage for domestic workers and farmworkers would amount to an increase of about R450 per month for a domestic worker.

Rebound in domestic worker jobs

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers has improved significantly over the last year.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country increased from 745,000 in Q2 2020 to 892,000 workers in Q2 2021.

This annual increase of 147,000 domestic worker jobs was larger than almost any other segment over the past year, surpassing technicians (106,000), craft and related trades (78,000), plant and machine operators (25,000) and sales and services (20,000) occupations, StatsSA said.

The significant increase can be partially attributed to the Covid-19 lockdown, as more than 259,000 domestic workers lost their jobs in Q2 2020 – a year-on-year decrease of 25.1%.

Domestic workers were effectively blocked from working during the country’s highest level 5 lockdown in 2020. In addition, many households retrenched domestic workers, citing concerns around costs.

Data published by cleaning service SweepSouth in June showed that an estimated 20% of domestic workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic over the last year.


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Things are looking up for domestic workers in South Africa