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Little has changed for domestic workers a year after court judgment, union says

SA Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union seeks confirmation of high court ruling declaring their exclusion from compensation act unconstitutional. Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

SA Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union seeks confirmation of high court ruling declaring their exclusion from compensation act unconstitutional. Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Nov 22, 2021

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Cape Town - A year after the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment in the Mahlangu vs Minister of Labour matter compelling the inclusion of domestic workers in legislation aimed at protecting workers, there has been little change in both employer compliance and the Department of Employment and Labour.

This according to United Domestic Workers of South Africa president Pinky Mashiane, who added that the government was stalling in signing the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Coida) into law to cover domestic workers.

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On November 19 last year, the Constitutional Court declared the exclusion of domestic workers from Coida unconstitutional and further ordered that the declaration be applied retrospectively to provide relief to domestic workers who were injured or died at work prior to ­­the order.

Mashiane said the Department of Employment and Labour was also dragging its feet on educating domestic worker employees on Coida developments, resulting in employees not complying.

“I had asked for 1E forms from the department to give to domestic workers who were injured on duty. One employer refused to fill in the forms but after explaining to him he signed them.

“One domestic worker told me that her former employers refused to fill in and sign forms because her injury was old and that this won’t work for her. Johanna was injured in 2005 by a tumble dryer and she lost the upper part of her little finger in that accident,” she said.

Mashiane said she would use a Tuesday meeting with the Injured Workers Action Group, South African Medical Association and other organisations with Minister of Labour Thulas Nxesi to seek clarity on what the department has done in implementing and enforcing Coida since the Constitutional Court ruling, and how it would get the act to work for domestic workers.

Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) researcher Kelebogile Khunou said while South Africa is known to have one of the most progressive legal frameworks for domestic workers globally, in reality, the majority of domestic workers do not enjoy the employment rights they were entitled to, such as decent working hours, overtime pay and fair dismissal procedures.

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Khunou said the Mahlangu victory offered an opportunity to take stock of domestic work in South Africa and reflect on achievements and find solutions to the challenges of employer compliance and strengthen enforcement mechanisms.

She said Mahlangu represents a turning point in the implementation of domestic worker laws in South Africa.

On Wednesday Seri would bring together different stakeholders and private actors in conversation about key issues in the sector and the future of domestic work.

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