There are more than a million domestic workers in South Africa who perform essential work like cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly, and gardening. Domestic work makes all other work possible – it allows people to leave their households and go out into the world to make a living.
Despite the implementation of labour laws and the collective efforts of domestic workers to assert their rights, domestic workers remain one of the most vulnerable occupational groups, City Buzz reports.
Many domestic workers have to face exploitative working conditions, disrespectful treatment, low wages, long hours and few employment benefits. Domestic work is also often undervalued because it takes place in the home (a space not commonly associated with work), and is usually performed by women (who are often expected to perform this type of work without pay).
The laws governing domestic workers may seem confusing or overwhelming, but these laws were put in place to protect domestic workers and ensure that they are treated fairly. Here’s what the law says about how you should be treating your domestic worker.
What the law says
It is employers’ responsibility to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and Sectoral Determination 7. These laws set out the minimum conditions of employment that domestic workers are entitled to. However, it’s strongly encouraged that you provide your domestic worker with more than these minimums.
Before the employment relationship begins, you and your domestic worker should discuss the terms of employment to make sure that you are in agreement about what your responsibilities towards each other are. Make sure that everything you’ve agreed on is put into a written employment contract. This will protect both of you.
- Minimum wage: The minimum wage is the lowest pay that you are legally allowed to pay your domestic worker. In South Africa, there isn’t one single minimum wage for all domestic workers, the minimum wage depends on the number of hours per week your domestic worker works and where you live. The minimum wage is set by the Department of Labour each year and published on their website. However, the minimum wage is not always enough to keep domestic workers out of poverty. If you can afford it, you should pay your domestic workers more than the minimum wage. Many low-income earners argue that a living wage (the amount that is necessary to meet the basic needs of a family) is more appropriate. You can calculate what a living wage would be for your domestic worker by using Open Up’s living wage calculator.
- Unemployment Insurance: You are responsible for registering your domestic worker with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). This is important because the UIF provides short-term relief by paying out domestic workers if they are unable to work as a result of illness, parental leave or losing their job. You can register your domestic worker for UIF online on the Department of Labour’s website. Once your domestic worker is registered, you and your domestic worker each contribute 1% of the domestic worker’s wages to the UIF. All the necessary information is available on the department’s website.
- Working hours: Domestic workers’ ordinary working hours should not exceed nine hours a day (if he or she works less than five days a week); or eight hours a day (if he or she works more than five hours a week). Domestic workers should never work more than 45 hours a week. If in a day a domestic worker works continuously for more than five hours, he or she is entitled to an hour-long lunch break.
- Overtime work: Domestic workers may work overtime if they agree to it. They should be paid one and a half times the normal hourly wage for each hour worked overtime.
- Leave: Domestic workers are entitled to 21 consecutive days of leave per year on full pay, or one day leave for every 17 days worked, or one hour for every 17 hours worked. Domestic workers are also entitled to at least four consecutive months of unpaid maternity leave and five days of paid family responsibility leave per year. Every three years, domestic workers are entitled to paid sick leave that is equal to the number of days they would normally work during a six-week period. This means that if a domestic worker works five days per week, he or she is entitled to 30 days of sick leave over a three-year period (five days per week x six weeks).
- Dismissal: You can only dismiss a domestic worker if you can show that he or she is unable to fulfill their reasonable work responsibilities, is guilty of wrongdoing, or operational reasons require you to retrench him or her (e.g. you are moving countries). When dismissing a domestic worker, you must follow the proper legal procedure. This includes giving a domestic worker at least one weeks’ notice (if they have been employed for 6 months or less) or at least four weeks’ notice (if they have been employed for more than six months). The notice period cannot overlap with any leave the domestic worker is entitled to, and cannot be given while the domestic worker is on leave. You cannot dismiss a domestic worker because she is pregnant or plans on having a child; he or she refuses to accept a change to their terms of employment; he or she took you to the CCMA; or you do not like the domestic worker.
Kelebogile Khunou is a researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI). On 4 May 2018, SERI is launching a user-friendly resource on the rights of domestic workers. The guide aims to create awareness of the rights of domestic workers and the obligations of employers in terms of the domestic employment relationship. The guide can be downloaded from SERI’s website.