A domestic worker refers to someone who is remunerated for performing domestic work in a private household. This includes individuals providing cleaning services, gardening, and caring for children, the elderly, or those who are sick, frail, or disabled.

Historically, domestic workers in South Africa have been marginalised and excluded from labour law protection. However, legal developments have aimed at addressing this issue and providing domestic workers with the rights and protection they deserve.

A significant change was implemented in September 2002 under Sectoral Determination 7, stating that domestic workers are now considered formal employees. As a result, employers must abide by the relevant labour laws when employing domestic workers. The Sectoral Determination 7: Domestic Worker Sector, a pivotal determination under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, governs the employment conditions for domestic workers in South Africa. It outlines minimum wage, working hours, leave entitlements, and termination rules.

The minimum wage for domestic workers as of March 2023 is R 25.42 per hour, subject to annual adjustments based on inflation and economic factors.

Employers may be prohibited from withholding or receiving payment from domestic workers for job-related training, work clothes, equipment or tools, and food provided during work hours. However, employers will be authorised to make certain deductions, including unauthorised absences, rentals, loans not exceeding 10% of the wage, and deductions required by law, such as UIF, tax, or court-ordered deductions.

Domestic workers are entitled to work around forty-five (45) hours per week. Any work beyond this time limit will be considered overtime and must be compensated at one and a half times the normal wage. Domestic workers are entitled to annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, and family responsibility leave as outlined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This includes twenty-one (21) consecutive days of annual leave per year or an alternative agreement based on the number of days or hours worked. During the first six months of employment, they are entitled to one day of paid sick leave for every twenty-six (26) days worked. Importantly, employing a domestic worker for more than 24 hours a month is considered full-time employment, which affords that employee the full protection of the labour law as a full-time employee – which must be complied with by the employer.

Termination of employment requires employers to provide written notice to their employees, and the notice period will vary depending on the length of service of each employee. The procedures outlined in the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 and Schedule 8 of the Code of Good Practice must be followed.

Despite these legal provisions, many domestic workers continue to be exploited in South Africa and continue to face seemingly insurmountable challenges, such as low wages and long working hours. Many steps have been taken to extend labour law protections to domestic workers. This progressive attitude encourages the continued future development of this sector to ensure that the rights and welfare of domestic workers are always protected.

Article By Nihal Dasraj

Legal Assistant at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)