Domestic workers pay high price for employers’ noncompliance

According to government's Covid-19 Risk-Adjusted Strategy, 'private household employment' will only resume at Level 2.

New research which suggests that as many as 90% of domestic workers in South Africa might not be registered with the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner’s office – and are thus unable to access the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) – has brought into sharp focus the desperate plight of some of the country’s most vulnerable workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance recently surveyed 600 domestic workers to better understand how many had been placed on unpaid leave as a result of the pandemic and the subsequent national lockdown as well as how many had access to the UIF over this period.

The results revealed that only 37% were receiving full pay during this period. A total of 79% of those surveyed indicated they were not registered and a further 11% were unsure, said Izwi upon releasing the results, which “means they likely are not”.

Last week, South Africa’s lockdown was downgraded from Level 5 to Level 4 and many different industries are now expected to gradually begin returning to work after a five-week forced stay-at-home.

But according to government’s Covid-19 Risk-Adjusted Strategy, which plots out a phased easing of the lockdown restrictions, “private household employment” will only resume at Level 2.

Government has established the Covid-19 temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters) in a bid to assist, among others, domestic workers. But the relief offered through Ters is only available to those who are registered.

Of the 600 people whom Izwi surveyed, 40% of those who were unregistered said this was because they were not South African but the largest portion – 47.4% – said it was as a result of their employers not having registered them.

Said Izwi: “Most households have not registered their worker for UIF be-cause they did not think it was worthwhile or did not want the hassle. Now, domestic workers and their families are paying the price for their employers’ noncompliance with labour law.

“There are over one million domestic workers in South Africa, 95% of whom are women and many of whom are primary breadwinners for families,” the alliance said.

“Izwi is already flooded with requests for assistance from women who do not have money to buy food for their families”.

Izwi has called on the department of labour to “compel all employers to pay domestic work-er wages, regardless of their UIF registration status”.

“Employers who have registered can claim the funds from Ters,” the alliance said.

“Those who have not registered their workers with UIF can be registered now or be mandated to continue paying their domestic worker regardless. Going forward, this could encourage a new standard of labour law compliance for domestic employers”.

The alliance’s Amy Tekie said yesterday that the situation was only growing more dire and that although only 4% of those surveyed indicated at the time that they had lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, Izwi had seen “a surge of dismissals and retrenchments” since.

“The impact is quite dramatic,” Tekie said.

“We are getting a constant stream of messages and requests for assistance, primarily from women, but also from men, who literally don’t have anything to put on the stove.”

She said historically, domestic workers were a vulnerable group and that the pandemic had taken this “to another level”.

“People don’t know how they’re going to survive,” she said.

“Government must step in”.

Deputy Labour and Employment Minister Boitumelo Moloi said at a briefing on the country’s “back-to-work readiness” yesterday that Ters had already paid out a total of R5.3 billion and a further R2.4 billion was cleared for payment today.

She did not, however, respond to questions posed to her about the challenges faced by domestic workers who could not access the fund.

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