Union calls for R2,500 minimum wage for domestic workers

| Thembela Ntongana and Zintle Swana
The annual increase in the minimum wage for domestic workers is due in December. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Domestic workers are calling for the minimum wage to be set at R2,500 a month when the Department of Labour announces the annual minimum wage increase in a few week’s time.

At present, according to the Department of Labour, the minimum wage for domestic workers in metropolitan areas is set at R1,877.70 a month for a 45-hour week and at R1,618.37 a month in the rest of the country.

Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) said domestic workers were still the lowest paid in the country.

“We want R2,500 minimum wage per month, at least R15 to R20 an hour,” she said. 1

Witbooi, who was a domestic worker for 13 years, said the minimum wage was not enough and had never been enough.

“Most domestic workers are actually living from borrowing,” she said.

The union has proposed that the system of metropolitan and other areas should be scrapped, and all domestic workers should receive the same amount regardless of area.

The increase in the minimum wage, announced on 1 December every year, is based on the inflation rate over the year.

At present the inflation rate is just under 6% a year. Domestic workers in the metropolitan areas are set to get an increase of inflation plus one percentage point (about 7%) and in the rest of the country inflation plus two percentage points (about 8%). The actual increase depends on the inflation rate for the whole year to December.

Five years ago the minimum wage for the metropolitan areas was R7.40 an hour and R6.11 for the rest of the country. Today it is R9.63 an hour in the metropolitan areas and R8.30 in the rest of the country.

But though the wage increases are calculated according to the inflation rate (the consumer price index), said Elroy Paulus, national advocacy manager at the Black Sash, domestic workers were losing out because, like all low income earners, they spent a high proportion of their salaries on goods whose prices rise faster than the average, such as food, transport, clothing and shelter.

Also, he said, distances from work, long hours and fear of retrenchment added to poor quality of life for domestic workers.

There are about 657,000 registered domestic workers and 646,578 employers on the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) data base.

Domestic workers have a right to annual maternity and compassionate leave and those who work more than 24 hours a month must be registered for UIF.

A total of 1% of the employee’s wage must be deducted by the employer and paid over to UIF and the employer must also contribute 1%.

Domestic workers must also have a contract signed by employers and must get payslips every month.

Myrtle Witbooi, General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union. Photo by Masixole Feni.

The department has inspectors to visit places of work to see if the law is being complied with. Department of Labour spokesperson Paige Boikanyo said inspections were undertaken regularly in each province but he would not say how many inspectors were involved.

According to Witbooi, in 2013 there were 80 inspectors in the Western Cape and they inspected 427 households and found that 200 of those did not comply with the labour laws.

“There are a lot of employers that do not comply with the labour laws, especially those in wealthy areas and this is caused by the lack of inspectors in the department.”

Most domestic workers questioned by GroundUp had no contracts with their employers. A few said they had contracts but were not registered for UIF.

None had ever seen an inspector from the Department of Labour at their place of work.

Addressing domestic workers earlier this month in Kimberley, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant said there was no reason for workers not to be registered with the UIF or earn less than the minimum wage prescribed by legislation.

But, she said, most workers were not aware of their rights.

  1. R15 per hour works out to R2,925 per month. R20 per hour works out to R3,900 per month. This assumes 195 hours worked per month, or 45 hours per week. 

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