Concourt overturns law denying domestic workers’ right to compensation
Cape Town – The Constitutional Court on Thursday overturned the law that made domestic workers the only group of employees who couldn't claim compensation in the event of illness, injury or death.
The Concourt ruled that a provision in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, 1993, which excludes domestic workers from being able to claim from the Compensation Fund in the event of injury, illness or death, is unlawful and violates the rights to social security, equality and dignity. It entrenched the “very system of racialised and gendered poverty that the Constitution seeks to undo”, it said.
This means that, for the first time, persons employed in private households will be able to apply for compensation when injured or when they contract a disease in the course of their employment.
The dependants of domestic employees will also qualify to claim should their breadwinner sustain a fatal accident at work. This order will apply retrospectively, with the result that those who suffered claims prior to this order will also qualify to apply for compensation.
“Domestic workers are the unsung heroines in this country and globally,” begins the Constitutional Court judgment, penned by acting Justice Margie Victor, in Mahlangu v The Minister of Labour.
“Their salaries are often too low to maintain a decent living standard but, by exceptional, if not inexplicable effort, they succeed. Sadly, despite these herculean efforts, domestic work as a profession is undervalued and unrecognised, even though they play a central role in our society.”
Norton Rose Fulbright, together with advocates Emma Webber and Lerato Phasha, represented the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) which intervened in the matter as amicus curiae in order to, inter alia, highlight to the court the devastating impact that the exclusion has on black women in South Africa.
The majority judgment noted the CGE’s tireless efforts in advancing the rights of women.