Changes coming for domestic workers in South Africa, says Ramaphosa

Domestic workers are one of the employment groups that the pandemic has hit the hardest, and thousands of women remain unemployed, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Addressing a Cosatu event on Thursday (28 October), Ramaphosa cited data from Statistics South Africa, which shows a 26% decline in employment among domestic workers between the first and second quarters of 2020.

“This means that there were a quarter of a million fewer domestic workers in employment after the first three months of Covid. While there has been some recovery, we have not yet returned to pre-Covid levels,” he said.

“It is therefore essential that we accelerate the recovery of our economy and the creation of jobs. It also means that we need to continue to provide support to those most affected by the pandemic.”

He added the contribution of domestic workers to South African society remains largely unrecognised and unappreciated.

“Their contribution is not reflected in the wages they are paid, in the conditions under which they often have to work, nor in the many ways that society recognises achievement,” he said.

“This great injustice has its roots in our apartheid past, where domestic work was one of the few occupations available to black women, where conditions were particularly exploitative, and where abuse was common.”

Wage changes

Ramaphosa noted that South African domestic workers are now likely to benefit from several regulatory changes, including an increased minimum wage in 2022.

“At the time that we introduced the national minimum wage, we recognised that domestic workers and farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to disemployment.

“Together with our social partners at Nedlac, we, therefore, established lower minimums for such workers with a process of gradual equalisation to the national minimum wage over time.”

Ramaphosa said that the national minimum wage for domestic workers has since been increased to 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021 and is expected to be aligned with the general minimum wage in 2022.

The enforcement of labour regulations and minimum wages is the mandate of the Department of Employment and Labour, and domestic workers have the same rights as other workers to lodge complaints, he said

“The department conducts inspections pro-actively and on the basis of complaints at workplaces to ensure that employers comply with all labour legislation. Those who exploit domestic workers must get this message. The time for domestic workers has arrived; they must be paid well and treated decently.”

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 has since recommended that the minimum wage of domestic workers be increased to 100% in 2022.

This adjustment of the minimum wage for domestic workers and farmworkers would add about R450 per month for a domestic worker.

More protections 

Ramaphosa noted that since February 2021, domestic workers could also qualify for benefits under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

This means that domestic workers who are injured at work can claim from the Compensation Fund, and the dependents of a domestic worker who died as a result of injuries incurred while on duty will also be able to claim, he said.

He added that it is also mandatory for employers of domestic workers and employees to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

“Full-time domestic workers can also claim UIF payments in cases of long term or temporary inability to work due to illness, maternity leave, adoption and unemployment.

“Another significant development is the approval by Parliament of the ILO Convention 190 on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.” This is set to be formally introduced shortly, he said.

Read: The average take-home pay in South Africa right now

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Changes coming for domestic workers in South Africa, says Ramaphosa