A large portion of the South African workforce – about 1 million people, according to Statistics SA – is made up of domestic workers and historically, domestic workers have been among the most exploited of all workers, labouring long hours for little pay, sometimes on the receiving end of abuse by their employers.
Significant steps have been taken to improve their situation, and they are now included under the Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations Acts. This means a minimum wage has been set, specific working conditions have been outlined, and other measures have been put in place to monitor a previously unregulated industry. Steps are also being taken to train domestic workers and give them formal recognition for their skills.
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!
It is the employers’ responsibility to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. These laws set out the minimum conditions of employment that domestic workers are entitled to. However, it is strongly encouraged that you provide your domestic worker with more than these minimums.
Your domestic worker is entitled to the minimum wage – 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 worked per week by your domestic worker and where you live.
When a domestic worker is employed in the bigger metropolitan areas which are listed in the law, they should be paid from R13,69 per hour if they work more than 27 hours a week and R16,03 per hour if they work less than 27 hours per week.
For domestic workers in the areas not listed, they are to earn between R2 400,00 and R2 500,00 per month if they’re working more than 27 hours per week and a minimum of R14,72 per hour if they’re working less than 27 hours a week.
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.
According to the legislation, domestics should work no more than 45 hours a week, and should not work more than 9 hours a day if they work a 5 day week, or more than 8 hours a day if they work for more than 5 days a week.
They should not work more than 15 hours a week overtime or more than 12 hours on any 1 day. Overtime is at one-and-a-half times the normal wage (or the employee may agree to receive paid time off instead).
Domestic workers may not be forced to work on Sundays, however if they agree to do so they must be paid twice the usual rate. If working every Sunday is part of a contract, they may be paid one-and-a-half times the usual rate. The same applies for public holidays – domestic workers are not obligated to work on these days unless it has been agreed upon by the worker and employee.
After 5 hours continuous work, the employee must be given a meal interval of at least 1 continuous hour, which may be reduced to 30 minutes by agreement between employer and employee.
You, as the employer, are also 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. Domestics are also entitled to severance pay of 1 week for each year of service, as well as 4 months’ unpaid maternity leave.
Termination of Agreement
An employer wishing to dismiss a worker must give 1 week’s notice if the domestic has been employed for 6 weeks or less, and 4 weeks’ notice if he or she has worked for more than 6 months. The services of an employee may not be terminated unless a valid and fair reason exists and fair procedure is followed – this is outlined in the Labour Relations Act (Code of Good Practice, in Schedule 8).
One of the underlying problems that domestic workers have to face on a daily basis is the fact that society doesn’t value their contribution to society.
Hivos, a development aid organization providing financial support to organizations working in Africa, states: “We need to recognize the positive contribution domestic workers play within our families and their direct and indirect contribution to the economy. Paid domestic work will continue to be an important source of employment for both women and men”.
The organisation, headquartered in the Netherlands, goes on to express: “The multiplicity of actors who interact directly or indirectly with domestic workers need to harmonize their efforts to ensure the sector is regulated, provide a safe environment free from physical and sexual abuse, pay a minimum wage and respond to the socio-economic needs of the domestic workers. Importantly, most domestic workers need financial management training to help them actualize their ambitions of self-employment or savings for the future”.
Domestic workers maintain our homes and institutions, nurse our children and keep the wheels of everyday life functioning with ease. For the role they play in the smooth running of society, they deserve respect and proper treatment. As a workforce, they form an admirable powerhouse of industry and finance.