Domestic workers

NOTICE | Employment law for domestic workers explained

Many domestic working relationships are marked by frustration and conflict, which creates tension within the home. But the laws regulating domestic employment have changed, explains Amy Tekie and Kelebogile Khunou.


The laws regulating the employment of domestic work have changed. If you employ a nanny, housekeeper, driver, gardener or other domestic worker in your home, you may need to change the terms of employment to stay within the bounds of the law.

First, from March 1, employers of domestic workers are required to pay their employees a minimum wage of R23.19 per hour, as announced by Minister of Employment and Labor Thulas Nxesi. This translates to around R4,019.57 per month for a 40 hour working week and R4,522.02 for a 45 hour week. Overtime must be paid for all hours worked beyond 45 hours and must be paid at 1.5 times the employee’s normal wage. Overtime pay for domestic workers is a minimum of R34.79 per hour.

It is important to note that minimum wage is the lowest wage an employer can legally offer their employee.

For single earners, the national minimum wage is generally not enough to meet a family’s basic needs. According to Statistics South Africa, the food poverty line, also known as the “extreme” poverty line, is R624 per person per month.

A domestic worker earning the minimum wage, just over R4,000 a month, supporting a family of four, would have to spend more than 50% of her salary on meeting the family’s basic needs; less than R2,500 should cover non-food household expenses like rent, water, electricity, transport, education and others. In such situations, food needs often have to be sacrificed to meet other needs, which are not yet sufficiently satisfied.

Second, on February 18, 2021, the Compensation Commissioner issued a notice to employers of domestic workers, advising them of their responsibility to register domestic workers with the Compensation Fund under the Workers’ Compensation Act. occupational diseases and injuries (COIDA). The law provides for the compensation of employees in the event of industrial accident, illness and death.

COIDA protects both the employer and the employee: it provides a “no-fault” compensation system, which means that an employee does not need to prove that the injury is the fault of the employer. to receive compensation and it also prevents employees from suing their employers. for the damage. Employers continue to be legally responsible for adhering to other employment standards relating to hours of work, meal breaks, rest periods, deductions, holidays, Sunday work, availability, work night shifts and different types of leave.

Of particular importance is the provision of a written contract, as well as registration and contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). The UIF provides short-term disability, unemployment, maternity and death benefits, as well as other protections such as Covid-19 relief payments for workers who have been told to stay at home . Documented migrant workers are included in the UIF and as of 2016 refugees and asylum seekers have also been deemed eligible.

If employers simply comply with core labor laws, it can have a significant impact on the well-being of South Africa’s 900,000 domestic workers. The majority of domestic workers are women and many of them are the only sources of income for their families. Fair working conditions, decent wages and protections should dramatically improve the lives of domestic workers and their families.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the domestic employment relationship is how it is managed, beyond employment standards. Domestic workers value being paid a fair wage and having reasonable working hours, but like other employees, they also want to be treated with respect and dignity, a right that is enshrined in our Constitution.

Unfortunately, many domestic working relationships are marked by frustration and conflict, which creates tension within the home. In some cases, employers may feel like everything is going well, while workers seethe in frustration but feel too uncomfortable to speak up. Workers who feel unfairly treated by their employers sometimes or all the time explained why:

“I work Monday to Sunday, weekends and holidays and I work more than 12 hours [per day], but I’m afraid to say anything because I risk losing my job. I only take off once a month.”

“We agreed on the start and end time, but I’m always late and I don’t get an apology… I have to ask for my salary every time after I work.”

Many employers are also frustrated. A domestic worker may run away after leaving the workplace for what was supposed to be a short vacation, leaving an employer in distress. Some workers may appear to disregard instructions that have been given repeatedly or may continually show up late. Some employers feel like they are bending over backwards to be fair and generous, but workers are enjoying the flexibility.

Too often, grievances go unaddressed until resentment builds. Miscommunication and lack of communication lead to different expectations, and when those expectations are not met on one side or the other, frustration sets in. Communication problems are exacerbated by different mother tongues, cultures and ways of handling conflict.

Such challenges can be found in most workplaces and industries, and therefore labor laws exist to guide employment relationships. Employers and domestic workers, like other sectors, are bound by regulations set out in the Employment Relations Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Sectoral Determination 7 and others.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor should raise awareness of the rights and responsibilities of domestic employers and improve its registration systems with the UIF and the Compensation Fund. Employers who don’t know the law, or who are too busy to engage in it, are setting themselves up for a failed relationship.

Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance and the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) recently launched “Hiring a domestic worker: legal and practical guideThis guide, available free online, provides employers with everything they need to know, including basic employment law requirements, how to register with UIF and COIDA, manage performance and communication, and how to handle difficult situations.

SERI and Izwi have also produced a series of short fact sheets which cover the following topics, Start the domestic working relationship, Compensation for accidents at work and occupational diseases, Minimum employment standards, Dealing with poor job performance and misbehaviour. Engaging with these products and investing time in managing the domestic working relationship will result in more harmonious homes and improved compliance with the law.

Amy Tekie is co-founder, Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance, and Kelebogile Khunou is a researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa. The views are theirs.