Government sends warning to households employing domestic workers in South Africa

 ·27 Sep 2022

The Department of Employment and Labour warns that it is conducting pro-active and reactive daily inspections to clamp down on employment abuses in the domestic workers’ sector.

Responding to a parliamentary Q&A this past week, labour minister Thulas Nxesi said this comes as a response to reports of the exploitation of domestic workers in South Africa.

A recent SweepSouth survey conducted in the sector showed that domestic workers in the country are still being severely underpaid, taking home on average R2,800 a month.

In 2022, the minimum wage for domestic workers reached parity with the national minimum wage, entitling workers to R23.19 an hour, or around R3,700 a month if working full time.

Nxesi said that the daily inspections are enabling the department to respond to complaints and ensure workers are not exploited.

“The Department further ensures that exploitation is dealt with through enforcing compliance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, in particular the Sectorial Determination 7, that deals with conditions of employment in the Domestic Sector,” he said.

The department and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) have jurisdiction to deal with national minimum wage issues, Nxesi said.

“Workers can report any matter to a local Labour Centre of the department. Where possible, however, the workers can also report to their local trade union offices, which will assist in reporting the cases to the department and the CCMA.”

The labour department previously warned that it would be clamping down on employers in the domestic worker sector who were engaging in illegal and exploitative behaviour, including underpaying and unilaterally altering hours of work or other conditions of employment to avoid paying the fair share.

The department’s deputy director of Advocacy and Stakeholder Relations, Caroline Kwetepane, said three years since the introduction of the NMW, some employers are still exploiting and violating the law by underpaying domestic workers.

“In addition to being underpaid, domestic workers are still not given contracts of employment, not handed payslips, not registered for injuries on duty, not registered for Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits and not extended leave benefits, among other violations,” she said.

The NMW is the amount payable for ordinary hours of work and does not include payment of allowances such as transport, tools, food or accommodation, payments in kind – like board or lodging – tips, bonuses and gifts.

Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) survey shows that hiring for domestic workers is still behind the levels of last year, despite an uptick in workers hired.

The QLFS shows that the number of domestic workers in the country increased from 808,000 in Q1 2022 to 858,000 workers in Q2 2022, adding 50,000 people to the sector.

However, while this marks a 6.2% increase quarter-on-quarter, numbers are still down from the same time last year, when 900,000 domestic workers were employed – a year-on-year decline of almost 4%.

While this trend can partly be attributed to seasonal changes, an increase in living costs in 2022 has also likely led to increased retrenchments as domestic workers are seen as a luxury for most.

Before Covid-19 and lockdown, South Africans employed around a million domestic workers. The pandemic, however, played its part in 250,000 workers losing their jobs.

While the sector has shown some recovery – around 140,000 domestic workers have still not re-entered the sector.

Read: Government sends warning to anyone not paying their domestic worker fairly

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