The Congress of South Africa has noted the grim and depressing SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic workers across Africa, including South Africa. The report makes for a depressing read and paints a picture of exploitation and also highlights the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on some of the most vulnerable workers. It helps shed light on areas where we have managed to improve the lives of domestic workers and equally where we have failed to do so as a nation since 1994.
It is also testament to our progressive labour laws that the levels of abuse reported in South Africa are lower than in other African countries. This is something that Minister Mboweni and his cheerleaders in the private sector should reflect on the next time they call for the abolishment of our labour laws and the exemption of SMME employers from them.
Over R60 billion was paid out by the UIF since the outbreak of COVID -19 to help ensure workers had enough money to take care of their families and thousands of domestic workers also benefitted from this intervention.
But this pandemic has also shown that many domestic workers are not registered with the UIF because only about 40 000 workers were able to receive UIF COVID TERS, out of about 800 000 domestic workers employed in South Africa.
This is something that government, employers and unions need to deal with. The existence of labour laws is simply not enough if the Department of Employment and Labour is not going to do their part through the expansion of its capacity to conduct inspections and monitor compliance.
The decline in working hours and incomes affecting domestic workers reflects that of the general economy since the onset of the pandemic and in fact even before its outbreak. This is why it is necessary for government and the SA Reserve Bank to help stimulate economic growth, and for the private sector, especially the financial sector to contribute to spurring economic growth and implementing the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan.
In South Africa, domestic workers have benefited from the passing of the National Minimum Wage Act in 2019 and more will benefit in 2022 when domestic workers are increased to 100% of the NMW.
However, government needs to do more to help ensure that all employers comply with the NMW Act and all other labour laws. Government must also ensure that the NMW exemption applications are not abused by employers that simply do not want to pay minimum wages to vulnerable workers that are terribly underpaid.
These are positive developments, largely driven by COSATU, but their full impact will not be felt if government continues to be half-hearted when it comes to implementation.
Currently, Parliament is processing the Compensation of Injury on Duty Amendment Bill which will ensure that domestic workers are covered by the Compensation of Injury in Duty Fund for any workplace injury or illness. Benefits provided for under the Unemployment Insurance Fund were recently increased to extend maternity leave coverage and increase their benefits.
Unemployment insurance payments were also increased. There are also about three Gender Based Violence Bills currently being processed that seek to strengthen protection for women from sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
But overall, South Africa needs to work on its culture of human rights because many employers still treat their employees nothing more than glorified slaves. Workers, especially domestic workers, and migrant workers are reluctant to speak out in defence of their rights when four (4) out of twenty (20) workers are unemployed and millions continue to lose their jobs.
Essentially, the report highlights the need for trade unions to do better to protect the rights of domestic workers. COSATU continues to work with SADSAWU to organize domestic workers. It is not an easy sector to organize but it must be done as these are amongst the most exploited and abused workers.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson) Tel: 011 339 4911
Cell: 060 975 6794