Cape Town - A small group of domestic workers from the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union protested outside Parliament on Thursday, seeking a minimum wage increase and compensation for on-the-job injuries.
Department of Labour spokesman Mokgadi Pela said Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant was unaware of the protest, but was ready to push legislation through to cover domestic workers under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, from which they are currently excluded.
Union president Hester Stephens said the lack of protection in case of injury was a major problem, as domestic workers often fell while cleaning at precarious heights, were burned in the kitchen, or even became targets of domestic burglaries.
Protesters said the current minimum wage was a disgrace. They wanted a flat R3 500 a month, with additional transport allowances.
Though many domestic workers rely on public transport, transport allowances are not currently regulated under Sectoral Determination 7, the law that controls the terms and conditions of employment for employees in the domestic working sector.
As of last December, the minimum monthly wage for a domestic worker in urban areas is R2 065.47 for a 45-hour week, and rural areas R1 812.57.
Amongst signs reading “decent work for all”, the protesters said they deserved more for the value they add to this country, while remaining among the most vulnerable workers.
Pela said the issue of minimum wage rates was complicated.
The union’s general secretary, Myrtle Witbooi, called the protest a “friendly reminder” to Oliphant that domestic workers were tired of a lack of proper recognition and progress.
Witbooi said after unanswered letters to the minister and increasing likelihood that domestic workers’ issues would be tabled on agendas, she wanted to believe, but was unable to.
Pela stressed that the minister was willing to engage with domestic workers at upcoming public engagements, one on April 11 in Mpumalanga and another on April 18 in Limpopo.
Domestic worker and union member Gladys Mnyengeza said even though she was frustrated, she was proud to be a domestic worker.
“When I finish my work I’m standing back saying, ‘Gladys, it’s so nice and clean’. Because I cleaned it.”
The department categorises domestic workers as those working in a private home, those who work for a domestic worker agency, gardeners, au pairs, those looking after sick or old people with disabilities in a private home, and a person driving for a household.