Are South African Domestic Workers Becoming Unemployable?

Are South African Domestic Workers Becoming Unemployable?

  • The new workmen's compensation legislation for domestic staff is worrying some employers, who are rushing to let staff go
  • Last year, it was reported that 156 000 domestic workers lost their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic
  • More layoffs are imminent as employers opt to hire domestic staff on a part-time basis to avoid paying more costs
  • One employee called upon employees to embrace this compensation act and not fire employees but rather engage in a conversation about it

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By Farai Diza - Freelance Journalist

Nobuhle Ncube has been working as a domestic worker for over 15 years. Like most low-level workers, she lives from hand to mouth. Even though she is able to save a bit, Nobuhle is aware of the hazards that come with her job.

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Her biggest fear is that she does not have a retirement package when she retires.

"You know, it is very easy for an employer to hire and fire you when you are a domestic helper. The labour laws are rigid and they do not favour low level workers," she said.
Domestic workers, workmen's compensation, laws
Nobuhle Ncube, who has been a domestic worker for 15 years, fears the new compensation laws will cost many their jobs. Image: Supplied
Source: UGC

A reflection of her narrative is evidenced by the number of domestic workers who fall from grace to grass when they retire. They eventually start relying on social grants.

Local domestic workers heaved a huge sigh of relief after their grievances were finally heard and they are now liable to compensation should disaster befall them.

For the first time in democratic South Africa, domestic workers will now be afforded temporary and permanent disability compensation. The Compensation for Occupational Injuries & Diseases Act also covers medical and funeral expenses while offering additional compensation to surviving spouses and children.

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The activation of those benefits also triggers obligations for those with domestic workers in their employ, similar to any other type of employer in SA.

Workmen's compensation brings relief to domestic workers

From 1 March 2021, workmen’s compensation will also be payable for all domestic employees (domestic worker, gardener, au pair). Domestic staff will register in their personal capacities, unlike in business.

This is because some domestic workers are paid daily and could have multiple employers. This comes after years of advocating for better working conditions and it is seen as a glow of victory.

But it all seems to have complicated matters as domestic workers are swiftly becoming "unemployable". Prospective employers are being scared off by the mere fact that they have to fork out more.

According to City Press, more than 156 000 domestic workers have lost their jobs since the second quarter of 2020.

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While most of the job losses are directly linked to the raging Covid19 pandemic, watch group Nascence Advisory & Research believe policymakers should do whatever they can to find ways to minimise requirements for employers without forgoing important worker protections.

Domestic law labour expert, Laura Davids, said it was an all too familiar scenario.

"Many employers who take their employees for granted do not stick to labour law requirements. It gets worse when there are injuries in the work space. I recall a case that once hit the headlines when a domestic helper was hit with a bottle on her head by her employee's temperamental daughter.
"She reported the incident but the police did little to assist her. Her quest for justice became a complicated one. So in such a case who, therefore, is liable to compensate the helper? The employer will tell you that she was not at home and the assaulter is a minor.

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"The picture here is clear. Domestic workers are entitled to benefits and compensation like all workers," she said.

Her study refers to the case of 53-year-old Martha Lesu who had a confrontation with her boss's daughter over food.

The daughter then humiliated her by pouring two litres of Coke on her before grabbing a cake glass stand and smashing it on her head. She was left with a deep wound below her left eye and she was lucky not to have lost her sight.

Lesu was left distraught as she had earlier told her employer about her daughter's aggressive behaviour.

Lesu took her case to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and she was left distraught when circumstances forced her to settle for a meagre R8 000 compensation.

Her story is one of the thousands. The new domestic labour laws are meant to protect people like Lesu. They are meant to cushion them against both abuse and poverty.

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Many domestic workers are left with nothing when they retire. The absence of pension life savings cripples their cause.

Employer Susan Nyadombo from Midrand, Johannesburg confirmed her satisfaction over the new laws but hinted that employers needed more clarity. She stated that in her case, she employs a foreign migrant worker.

Most foreign domestic workers are often undocumented. This leaves them vulnerable to unfair treatment. Many end up losing their intended benefits.

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"Domestic workers are an important part of our everyday lives. Besides looking after our homes, they also raise, groom and nurture our kids.
"For that reason I decided to hire a helper from my native Zimbabwe who is also Shona-speaking. She uses an asylum permit which legalises her stay in South Africa and also allows her to work here.

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"Does the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act cover both locals and migrants? If their spouses and children are based outside SA borders, how do they receive the medical and funeral compensation?
"More clarity needs to be provided there. I know for a fact that thousands of Zimbabweans are employed as domestics in SA," she said.

Are new laws making domestic employees unaffordable?

While the new legislation is a breath of fresh air, it is also a predicament that places domestic workers in an undesirable position.

A vox populi revealed that some employers are now considering hiring part-time workers who work on call.

They are doing so in a fresh bid to eliminate compensation. It leaves many pondering on whether the new legislations are worth it or not.

"As a domestic worker, we all long for better working conditions as well as protection. Personally, I call upon our employees to embrace this compensation act by not being intimidated by it. They must not fire their workers but must involve dialogue.

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"It would be so disheartening to see more domestic workers losing their jobs because of the new laws," added Nobuhle.

Domestic worker at day, baker at night: Woman wows the net with amazing baking skills

In other news, a proud woman recently sang the praises of her domestic worker who bakes cakes to make some extra money.

The heartwarming post includes some photos of the cakes which were baked beautifully by the hardworking domestic worker.

"Jessie has been working in my house for almost 8 years now from Monday to Saturday 6 days a week... well yes. There is a saying that says never judge a book by its cover. In the afternoons, as she comes back to her house, she bakes orders until late at night.
"Here are some of the cakes that she has baked now. It is amazing to me the talent she has and I feel it is necessary to share her talent and story of her life to share and honour in life where it is due.

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"She always has a smile on her face and very humble and sparkling personality," wrote Neels Claassen.

Roslyn-Anne De Luca commented:

"Absolutely talented. Beautiful cakes!"

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Source: Briefly News

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