In a recent article about the coronavirus rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen unpacked all the implications that the announcement of a national state of disaster would have in a society like South Africa which is characterised by steep inequalities.
One of the people he highlighted as being particularity vulnerable during this pandemic was domestic workers.
“Do not require your domestic staff to come to work, for you are putting them at risk with congested travel conditions. Then, paying your workers for this was the only way they could survive while remaining at home,” advised Jansen.
With the social distancing that has been advised to curb the spread of the coronavirus in SA which has many people being asked to work from home, domestic workers and their employers find themselves in a challenging situation. Employers are wondering whether it’s best to send their helpers home even though they are still working, only now from home. On the other hand, domestic workers are worried about contracting the virus in their work environment and the prospect of having to take extended sick leave or having to go into self-quarantine.
In an interview with Health-e labour law specialist Natasha Moni, she explained that employers have to ensure that their employees have a safe environment to work in.
“The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) states that workers are entitled to claim compensation under specific circumstances. However, the act does not cover domestic workers and gardeners. So for instance, if you have a family that went to Italy to ski, and you came back with the Covid-19 virus, chances are you’ve affected the people around you in your home and in your workspace,” added Moni.
What does cover domestic workers and gardeners is rather the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“The Occupational Health and Safety Act does say that every employer must make the environment safe. But if you have a domestic worker or gardener order that does not fall within COIDA, then we use the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure that you made the environment safe for this employee. This includes the employer taking precautionary measures such as providing hand sanitiser. People who contract the virus are entitled to paid sick leave days to recover, or to self-isolate,” explains Moni.
This is what some SA moms with nannies have to say:
“My nanny is going home to Lesotho for Easter as per normal and in order to keep her safe and by extension ourselves, we have decided that she needs to travel in a private car rather than a taxi full of people, as per normal. She has found a lift in a car and I have said, as her employer, I will assist in the extra cost implication that travelling this way will obviously have”- Zinhle Msimango, mom of two.
“Even though I would like my nanny to leave until this pandemic in under control, unfortunately I am so overwhelmed with the kids and still have to do my work remotely. So, unfortunately, my helper is still with us but because she lives close to our house and I am able to take her home by car when she takes the weekends off,” -Anonymous, mom of three.
“My helper has already left but I am still paying her. I have said we will make decisions on when she comes back based on how the situation develops with this pandemic. My university-going sister, who is also at home as universities are also closed, is home and helping me with my daughter while I work from home thankfully.”- Anonymous, mom of one.