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Many years of hard work and nothing to show for it. 

This is the story of former domestic worker Kelebogile Mosweu, 54, who left her job after almost 30 years without a penny to her name. 

Mosweu had no leave, often worked overtime and was paid little. She was forced to retire when she turned 50 because of ill health.

“Had it not been for my health issues such as arthritis, especially back pain and swelling feet, I believe I would still be working. They (employers) told me straight that I should not expect anything when I retire, so I still wanted to work and hopefully get a grant to rescue me from my situation. But my hands are empty and I have nothing to show for all these years,” said Mosweu.

“Today, my children all went through university, are working and have started their families because I did not want them to go through the same thing I went through. I believe I should at least have received a little sum of money, but all I got was ‘thank you and bye-bye’. It hurts.”

SA Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union’s Eunice Dhladhla attested to many of her colleagues’ bleak future after retirement.

Dhladhla said the union continues to put pressure on the government to recognise domestic work as an occupation and provide the necessary retirement benefits, such as Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) payouts.

“We are all workers. Why are they treating us differently and shutting us out? We will continue advocating for a pension fund, compensation for occupational injuries and diseases and other benefits,” said Dhladhla.

She said that despite efforts by unions and the Department of Labour to educate domestic workers about their rights, the information does not always reach them. 

“They all complain about the same things: unfair dismissal, ill-treatment, more work for less pay, unpaid overtime, not being registered and lack of benefits. They are even afraid to join unions because they fear victimisation and dismissal,” she said, blaming lack of labour law enforcement for low compliance.

Labour department spokesperson Teboho Thejane said it conducts inspections to ensure enforcement and address complaints despite the difficulties they face. 

“Finding employers at their private homes when required is difficult because a definition of a workplace does not include a private dwelling/house. Inspectors must make an appointment first and normally their visits are late after work as the domestic employers also work during the day,” said Thejane.

“The inspector has a right to enter any workplace without interference but does not have the same powers at someone’s house,” he said, adding that inspectors have devised a special programme to ensure they promote compliance.

Socio-Economic Rights Institute’s Kelebogile Khunou said research has revealed that many domestic workers and employers are not aware of the laws that protect their rights.

“It comes as a surprise to many employers that domestic workers are covered by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Labour Relations Act, Unemployment Insurance Act and, hopefully soon, the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act,” she added.

The institute recently launched a campaign to raise awareness among domestic workers and other affected parties. 

“Many employers know domestic workers are entitled to a wage for their work, but many do not know domestic workers are entitled to overtime pay, 21 days of leave per year, and that employers are obliged to register their employees for UIF.”

The Sunday Independent