You and your domestic: Rights and responsibilities

Are you a domestic worker unsure of your rights? Or an employer or prospective employer wanting to clarify your obligations to your domestic worker?

A domestic worker is a gardener, driver or person who looks after children, the aged, sick, frail or disabled in a private household. (Image: Solidarity Centre)

Minimum wages, working conditions, employment contracts. Here’s a quick guide to the so-called Domestic Workers Act (Sectoral Determination 7 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act), plus all the links you need to find out more.

A large portion of the South African workforce – about 1 million people, according to Statistics SA – is made up of domestic workers.

Maids or domestics are an integral facet of South African life, as is the “maids and madams” relationship so successfully satirized in the well-known cartoon, Madam and Eve. In the cartoon, the traditional power balance in the maid/madam relationship is turned upside down: Eve, the domestic worker, has her “madam” firmly under her thumb.

For years, domestic workers have been among the most exploited of all workers – labouring long hours for meagre pay, sometimes on the receiving end of abuse by their employers.

But 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 laid down, and other measures have been put in place to regulate a previously unregulated industry. Steps are also being taken to train domestic workers and give them formal recognition for their skills.

Domestic workers are covered by the Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations Acts. (Image: Solidarity Centre)

To whom does the Domestic Workers Act apply?

To the estimated 1 million workers in the country who work as domestics, gardeners, childminders (including drivers of children) and those who look after the sick, aged or disabled in private homes. The legislation also covers domestic workers who work as independent contractors.

What is the Act all about?

In a special sectoral determination, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act sets out minimum wages for domestics and specifies working conditions such as hours of work, overtime pay, salary increases, deductions, annual and sick leave.

This legislation also lists the urban areas (classified as A Areas) where one minimum wage applies. A second minimum wage applies to domestic workers in non-urban areas (B Areas).

  • The Department of Labour has an online section focusing on domestic workers where one can find additional information on the act, conditions of employment, contracts, unemployment insurance and others.

What is the minimum wage?

Domestic workers working in designated urban areas for more than 27 hours per week should receive R 2 422,54 a month, at an hourly rate of R 12,42. While those working in designated non-urban areas should receive R 2 205,17 per month, or an hourly rate not below R 11,31.

Domestic workers working in designated urban areas for 27 hours or less per week should receive R1 237.60 a month at an hourly rate of R10.48, while those in designated non-urban areas should receive R1 056.35 a month, at R9.03 per hour.

The minimum wages given are applicable from 1 December 2016 till 30 November 2017.

How many hours a day can a domestic worker be expected to be on duty?

According to the legislation, domestics should work no more than 45 hours a week, and should not work more than nine hours a day if they work a five-day week, or more than eight hours a day if they work for more than five days a week.

Domestics should work no more than 15 hours a week overtime or more than 12 hours on any one day. Overtime is at one-and-a-half times the normal wage (or the employee may agree to receive paid time off). They should also receive double pay on Sundays or public holidays.

Domestics should work no more than 15 hours a week overtime or more than 12 hours on any one day. (Image: Elin)

What about accommodation?

Employers whose domestics live on the property may deduct 10% of their salary for accommodation, providing the accommodation complies with the minimum standards laid down in the legislation.

What happens when things go wrong?

An employer wishing to dismiss a worker must give a weeks notice if the domestic has been employed for six weeks or less, and four weeks’ notice if he or she has worked for more than six months.

Domestics are also entitled to severance pay of one week for each year of service, as well as four months’ unpaid maternity leave.

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).

Are domestic workers entitled to UIF?

If your domestic works for you for more than 24 hours a month, they must be registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

It is the employer’s responsibility to register their domestic worker with the UIF, and to ensure payment is made. Monthly contributions are 2% of the worker’s wage (split evenly between the employer and the employee).

Employers are advised to sign an employment contract with their domestic worker and are obliged to issue a regular pay slip.

Is there a union for domestic workers?

Yes, there is – the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, which has around 25 000 members.

  • Watch an interview with Sadsawu’s Esther Stevens by the International Trade Union Confederation

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