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Domestic workers are an essential and are part of South Africa’s labour force. They clean, babysit, act as security, occasionally as drivers, caretakers, do the laundry, walk the dogs and house sit and sometimes even cook for the family. There are about 53 million domestic workers worldwide, which is almost the size of the South African population, according to the International Labour Organisation. And, in South Africa, domestic workers make up 6% of the employed population, according to the Labour Force Survey.

Who is a Domestic Worker?

A domestic worker is a person employed to look after children, the house/home, the old-aged, sick, frail or disabled in a private household, a gardener etc. This is the view taken in the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act, 2002 (Act No. 4 of 2002).

The Domestic Workers’ Act

The Domestic Workers’ Act sets out minimum wages for domestics and specifies working conditions such as hours of work, overtime pay, salary increases, deductions, annual and sick leave. This legislation also lists the urban areas (classified as A Areas) where one minimum wage applies. A second minimum wage applies to domestic workers in non-urban areas (B Areas). The legislation also covers domestic workers who work as independent contractors.

Hours of Work, Leave and Dismissal

  • According to the legislation, domestic workers should work no more than 45 hours a week, and should not work more than nine hours a day if they work a five-day week, or more than eight hours a day if they work for more than five days a week.
  • Domestic worker should work no more than 15 hours a week overtime, and no more than three hours on any one day. They should also receive double pay on Sundays or public holidays.
  • Employers whose domestics live on the property may deduct 10% of their salary for accommodation, providing the accommodation complies with the minimum standards laid down in the legislation.
  • An employer wishing to dismiss a worker must give a week of notice if the domestic has been employed for six months or less and four weeks’ notice if he or she has worked for more than six months.
  • Domestics are also entitled to severance pay of one week for each year of service, as well as four months’ unpaid maternity leave.
  • All employers must register their employees for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and are advised to sign an employment contract with their domestic worker.

Sick Leave

  • Workers may take up to 6 weeks of sick leave on full pay in a 3-year period.
  • However, during the first 6 months of employment, workers are only entitled to 1 day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days worked.
  • Employers may insist on proof of illness before paying a worker for sick leave.

A medical certificate may be provided by a:

  • Medical practitioner
  • Clinic nurse
  • Traditional healer
  • Community health worker
  • Psychologist
  • An employer may require a medical certificate before paying workers who are absent for more than 2 consecutive days or who are often absent (more than twice in an 8-week period).
  • Fees that are paid for medical treatment by an employer may be deducted from the workers’ pay.

Is there a union for Domestic Workers?

Yes, there is – the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union (SADSAWU). Telephone: 011 448 0044

Can Domestic Workers receive training to upgrade their skills?

  • A massive training project, the Domestic Workers Skills Development Project, was launched.
  • The Department of Labour’s National Skills Fund financed the training to the tune of R120-million.
  • The project aims to train 27 000 domestic workers around the country over the next three years.
  • Trainees will receive formal recognition for their skills.
  • The Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta), has overseen the training and has set up a discrete chamber for domestic services.

 UIF for Domestic Workers

Domestic workers and their employers contribute 1% of the wages to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The only condition of this is that the domestic worker works more than 24 hours a month. Registration cannot be backdated.

  • Where one household employs more than one domestic worker, only one domestic employer registration is necessary.
  • If a domestic worker is employed by more than one employer, each employer must register separately and ensure that the domestic worker is registered. This also applies to agents or bookkeepers administering the affairs of more than one domestic employer.
  • Separate registrations are also required in cases where a commercial employer is also a domestic employer. Registration and payment of contributions of domestic workers may not be included in that of a commercial enterprise.
  • People employed by corporate entities as gardeners or cleaners in housing complexes are also not regarded as being employed in private households.
  • Companies, Close Corporations, Partnerships and any other Corporate Bodies are not domestic employers.   (Primrose’s story)   (Justine’s story) (Myrtle SADSAWU General Secretary for Domestic Workers)

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