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Plight of domestic workers under lockdown

Domestic worker Nomathemba Daka at work.     Simphiwe Mbokazi  African News Agency (ANA)

Domestic worker Nomathemba Daka at work. Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 14, 2020


Pretoria - One of the sectors which suffers the most under the lockdown provisions are domestic workers who cannot report for work unless they are living on the premises of their employers.

It is thus vital that they can benefit from the UIF, according to Pinky Mashiane, president of United Domestic Workers of South Africa.

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Mashiane yesterday reminded employers that all domestic workers who work more than 24 hours a month must be registered, as prescribed by law.

“Even if a domestic worker works more than 24 hours a week for different employers, those employers are obliged to register with different UIF reference numbers for the one specific worker,” she said.

The South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, made recommendations to the National Command Council, Minister of Employment and Labour and the UIF Commissioner seeking a declaration that recognises domestic workers as UIF contributors.

This is so that they can access income protection during the state of disaster.

These recommendations were endorsed by the United Domestic Workers of SA and Izwi Domestic Workers’ Alliance.

They said the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown had had a devastating impact on the lives of domestic workers and their families across the country.

A mere 20% of domestic workers are registered for UIF.

This means that the majority of domestic workers cannot access the Department of Employment and Labour’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme.

This is because domestic employers did not fulfil their legal obligation to register them.

At the same time,some registered domestic workers report that their applications for the scheme have been declined.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute said the Unemployment Insurance Act enabled the minister, UIF commissioner and board to deem individuals or a class of persons as contributors for the purposes of the act.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute, on behalf of United Domestic Workers of SA, recommended that the minister and the UIF Board declare domestic workers UIF contributors for the purpose of the act, specifically for the duration of the pandemic.

The letter also recommended that the department create a mechanism for domestic workers to access relief schemes directly from the department, as individuals, or collectively through their unions.

The unions said they took note that employers who had not yet registered their employees for UIF could now register them in order to benefit from the relief scheme, if the employers undertook to pay the debt owing to the UIF when they were able to do so.

They said that while this solution might aid employers and workers in other sectors, it was likely that some domestic employers would rather dismiss their employees unfairly than pay their debt.

In the case of vulnerable sectors like domestic work, the department needed to find creative solutions to support workers while holding employers accountable.

According to the unions, the department had neglected to directly address the 1million domestic workers and their employers during lockdown, leaving them without clear direction.

They said this declaration and inclusion of domestic workers as UIF contributors would bring relief to millions of domestic workers as it would enable them to access the relief scheme.

Mashiane, meanwhile, said desperate times called for desperate measures. She called on the department to urgently grant amnesty to all employers of domestic workers to register their workers.

“The aim of the amnesty is to promote compliance in a polite manner.

"This will be to the benefit of the domestic workers,” she said.

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Pretoria News

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