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Paying the National Minimum Wage is the Right Thing to Do

In a media statement published on the 17th of September 2022, Employment and Labour has stated that all domestic workers are entitled to be paid according to the National Minimum Wage, which came into effect from 01 March 2022.

In the three years since the introduction of the National Minimum Wage Advocate Caroline Kwetepane says at the Department’s Domestic Worker seminars, held across the country, under the umbrella of “Paying the National Minimum Wage is the Right Thing to Do”, that employers are still exploiting and violating the law by underpaying domestic workers. In addition to being underpaid, she said domestic workers were still not being treated as employees and being provided with the same employment specific documents such as contracts of employment and payslips and not being registered for injuries on duty and Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits and not being provided with the mandatory leave benefits afforded to workers in a formal workplace environment.

The largely uncontrolled domestic worker sector comes with its own unique set of barriers to fairness in the workplace as it is largely uninspected and due to the informal nature of the workplaces (domestic homes, complexes etc) and sometimes temporary nature of the positions, employers are often able to set their own rules and circumvent legislation which governs other sectors. The term domestic work refers to any work performed in or for a household or households, including gardening, driving, the caretaking of children or the aged, the sick, the frail or the disabled.

Advocate Kwetepane was addressing the Domestic Workers Sector Advocacy Seminar at Salt River, in the Western Cape Province. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the NMW Act of 2018 which came into effect on 1 January 2019, in line with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention(s) policy of improving the living standards of the vulnerable domestic workers.

When it was introduced in 2019 the NMW was fixed at a level of R20 per hour however domestic workers were excluded from the minimum wage as the hourly rate was set slightly lower. The goal was to equalise the domestic worker sector in due course and was the result of the large variance between actual and legislated minimum wages at the time. Since then, it has increased on an annual basis with Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi declaring that the National Minimum Wage would be adjusted from R21,69 in 2021, to R23,19 in 2022, for each ordinary hour worked, with effect from 01 March.

As part of the seminar, The Department has encouraged employees to report noncompliance of the BCEA, UIF and CIOD Acts, to the nearest labour Centre or CCMA. However, employees are only in a position to do so, if they are aware of the laws which govern their workplace and where there is no fear of recrimination as a result of reporting. Too often domestic workers do not report non-compliance as they fear for the loss of their jobs or declare that any income is better than none, which is the result of the country’s high employment rate. Employees would be better served with an increase of inspectors from the Department of Employment and Labour to act on their behalf by visiting domestic employers and auditing their employment documents, as they do with employers in the formal workspace.

In a response to the seminar, it is reported that the South African Domestic and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) called on the Department to provide more inspectors for the sector and to force employers to register them for the UIF and COID, also requested that more information on COIDA and NMW be provided in all official languages.