Something to Ponder

Domestic Workers
Salome Molefe is a domestic worker and union organizer in a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. The Solidarity Center is conducting test litigation to remedy health and safety laws that do not cover domestic workers. Credit: Solidarity Center/Jemal Countess. 2014.

A Case For Domestic Workers

This week, The High Court in Pretoria ruled that domestic workers were eligible to claim from the Compensation Fund if they were injured, contracted a disease or died at their place of work.

There are some things that are just right because the people concerned are human beings pure and simple. To have a domestic worker covered for injuries that occur at work and other work related health issues is something that is long overdue.  Workmen and women who work as domestic help also face risks to their health. They work with dangerous implements, like knifes, work with cooking gas and electricity. These people use cleaning chemical compounds, detergents and other stuff around the home that are dangerous to their health. Yet, when incidents happen, they have nowhere to turn to for compensation or help with related bills unless they have taken out private health insurance cover for themselves.

Workers in an office or factory are covered by the employee’s Act, that ensures their safety at the workplace, and in case they were injured or contracted disease they could claim compensation from the Fund. However, the domestic worker, whose workplace is the home and its environs have not had this privilege before now. They have not been classified as ‘employees’ when they work for private home owners. So, when a domestic worker drowns in their employer’s pool, is killed by the employer’s bulldog or has their fingers or hand chopped off by a power saw while pruning a tree in the employer’s home, they have had no recourse to take to get compensated. Families have literary been left without their bread winner in cases where they die or are maimed in the course of work.

What the South African Court has done this week is recognise that a domestic worker’s life is a human life just like the life of someone working in the corporate or industrial world. The High Court found fault, declaring that it was unconstitutional for domestic workers to be excluded as “employees”. 

When this declaration is effected, employers will be required by law to register their domestic workers under  COIDA and pay a percentage of their employees’ wages into the Compensation Fund.

Hoping the relevant registrations will be done soonest and there will be total co-operation from employers so as to give these often overlooked hardworking citizens of South Africa a well deserved service.

Lucy Thairu