COSATU President Zingiswa Losi’s Address: Domestic Workers’ Dialogue

17 February 2024

Programme Director, Comrade Phumlani,

Leadership of COSATU, SADSAWU, the ANC, SACP, the Leagues and Department of Employment and Labour,

Most importantly our domestic workers present,

Thank you for gathering here today as we seek to honour the domestic workers who take care of our children, our elderly relatives and our homes whilst we are at work. 

The long hours and sacrifices that nearly one million domestic workers put in every home is the hidden backbone of our society and the economy.

Whilst domestic workers play such an important role in our families, they do so under often the most trying conditions.  The pay is little, the hours long, the days spent away from their own families painful and in too many instances they are subjected to some of the most horrific abuses, including sexual.

We all need to do better by and with our domestic workers.

For many years domestic workers were paid little more than a slave wage.  In 2019 after extensive negotiations at Nedlac and Parliament, led by then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a National Minimum Wage come into effect. 

It is not a living wage, that is a different objective that we must continue to strive for.  The minimum wage is the level below which no worker can be paid. 

In 2019 the Minimum Wage was R20 overall and for farm and domestic workers it was R18 and R15 an hour.  This was a compromise to ensure no workers were retrenched as a result of the Minimum Wage coming into effect.

Since then, farm and domestic workers have reached the national minimum wage.

The Minimum Wage has been consistently increased by the Minimum Wage Commission and the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, at levels above inflation to help protect workers from the rising costs of living.

From 1 March 2024, it will be R27.58 an hour.  We are pleased that government agreed to COSATU’s proposal for this positive 3% above inflation increase.

Whilst we are pleased with the progress we have made, we must do more with the Department and SADSAWU to ensure all employers abide by it and to report those who refuse to do so.

Last year marked an historic victory in the struggle to improve the working conditions of domestic workers.

Parliament passed the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act to ensure that for the first time domestic workers are insured for any injuries or diseases they experience at their workplace.

The Amendment Act recognises the right of workers to claim compensation for post-traumatic stress or diseases and illnesses that may only show after the worker has left their place of employment.  This means domestic workers suffering from PTSD due to sexual harassment or gender-based violence at work, can now claim compensation.

Workers now have 3 years to submit claims to the Compensation Fund.

In 2018 the Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act became law extending paid maternity leave to mothers who experienced still born births or third trimester miscarriages.  Maternity leave payments were also increased.

In the same year the Labour Laws Amendment Act came into effect, providing 10 days paid parental leave for parents of new born children who are not covered by maternity leave, e.g. fathers or mothers of children born through a surrogate pregnancy or same sex partnership.

10 weeks paid adoption leave is now provided when legally adopting a child two years and younger.

If a worker passes away whilst receiving payments from the UIF or Compensation Fund, the balance owed to them must be paid to their next of kin.

We are society marked by a cancer of gender-based violence and sexual harassment at the workplace.  Parliament overhauled our criminal laws in 2021 to strengthen our tools to fight this national shame.

Sexual offenders of any type must be recorded in a publicly accessible sexual offenders’ register and prohibited from employment in positions of authority over children, the elderly or other vulnerable persons. 

The powers of the police and the courts to enter and search, arrest and detain, prosecute and convict such offenders has been significantly increased.

Whilst we celebrate these victories, they will remain little more than nice English words on a paper, unless workers are aware of their rights, we expose employers and anyone who breaks the law, we report such persons to the Department of Employment and Labour or the Police as appropriate.

This requires Treasury to allocate enough resources to the Department to ensure it has enough labour inspectors to visit all workplaces and ensure full compliance with our labour laws.  The Department hired an additional 400 inspectors in 2020 but this is not enough.

We are engaging the Department of Employment and Labour on a road map to modernise our the UIF, Compensation Fund and the CCMA.  Workers should not be made to stand for days in queues when they are in need of help from these critical institutions. 

Modernising these Funds and the CCMA is important not only so that employers can register their employees, so that workers can apply for and receive the relief due to them, but also so we can prevent and expose those who steal workers’ monies.

It means we as COSATU and our Affiliates must visit all workplaces, recruit workers, train and empower them to understand their rights.

We need to put in place an active plan to recruit domestic workers to join SADSAWU and to help SADSAWU become a fully-fledged union.

Those of us who employ domestic workers must lead by example.  Are we paying above the minimum wage, are we registered for the UIF and Compensation Fund, do we recognise public holidays as paid days off?  Let us not pretend this is someone else’s responsibility.

These have not been easy journeys.  We have won many victories as COSATU at Nedlac, at Parliament, in our Alliance with the African National Congress, in our Bargaining Councils, at the CCMA and the Labour Courts. 

We win these battles when we have strong unions.  Unions can only be strong when workers join together and become members. 

We have also been able to put these victories for workers into law through our alliance with the ANC.  This is critical as this allows workers to hold employers, government and businesses accountable.  Those who break the laws can be taken to the CCMA or court.  Workers can hold government accountable to pay what is due to them.

It is natural, with our many challenges, to be irritated with government and even to question why should we vote and why should we vote for the ANC?

The victories I have outlined above over the past 5 years, were due not only to COSATU’s campaigns but also because we have an ally, the ANC that is the product of workers’ struggles and many of whose leaders come from COSATU. 

It has not always been easy, at times we have been angered by mistakes our comrades make, but the ANC remains an ally of workers and a champion of working-class struggles.

It is important for all of us to ensure we are registered to vote, have our IDs and come election day to vote early and vote for the ANC.  We have come too far to risk losing the victories we have one or to risk losing a government and Parliament that is biased towards workers’ causes.

Allow me to conclude by thanking you for coming today.  This must not be a once off occasion but the beginning of a campaign across Durban and KwaZulu-Natal to recruit, train and empower all our domestic workers, to build SADSAWU, to tackle abusive employers, to hold government accountable, to achieve that better life for all.

Thank you.  Amandla!  Malibongwe!–