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How Much Should You Be Paying Your Domestic Worker, By Law?

Author: Jason Snyman
Date: 2019-05-21
There seems to be some confusion as to how much you’re supposed to pay your domestic worker, by law. The Department of Labour has given us one figure, while the recently-introduced National Minimum Wage Act has given us another. So, which one do we follow, and is it really enough?

Back in 2017, Stats SA stated that there were 1.045 million people employed as domestic workers in the country. This was said to be the highest number in recent years. According to Stats SA’s latest unemployment data, though, around 15 000 domestic workers lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2019. 

The plight of the South African domestic worker is worsening, and for more reasons than one. 

To shine a light on the situation, digital domestic worker-booking platform, SweepSouth, has released its 2019 Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Work in South Africa.

The report interviewed over 1 300 domestic workers, giving us some insight into who these people are, and the current industry conditions they’re working under. 

These are some of the findings:

  • 71% of respondents were single mothers, and 79% were the main breadwinner of their household.
  • 64% receive no additional support from government grants, and around 50% support a family of four, on an income of R2000 – R3000 per month.
  • 43% work between six and seven hours a day and 43% will spend up to two hours a day travelling, by taxi.
  • 55% of domestic workers have matric, but no further educational qualifications.
  • 27% live in a shack.
  • 16% of South African domestic workers have reported being verbally or physically abused at their workplaces.

That’s a long, hard work day, and not a whole lot to show for it.

The average domestic worker earns around R2500 per month, of which R700 – R1000 is spent on food, up to R100 per month on data and airtime, R500 – R1000 on rent, over R500 on transport, and, if they have children, over R1500 per year on school fees. 

And then, of course, we’ve had the relentless increases on fuel (pushing up the price of food and transport and paraffin), increased taxes and inflation, while salaries remain the same. 

We all know this story, we’re all familiar with it and we’ve all felt the sting. But, as is so often the case, those at the bottom of the economic ladder suffer hardest, fastest and most mercilessly in times of economic turmoil. 

Some of us are just better equipped to weather the storm.

Let’s take a look at some of the other findings in the report, and what we, as employers, can do to remedy the many, many problems.

How Much Are You Supposed To Pay Your Domestic Worker, By Law?

Now this is a complicated quagmire. There seems to be some confusion as to how much you’re supposed to pay your domestic worker, by law. The Department of Labour has given us one figure, while the recently-introduced National Minimum Wage Act has given us another. So, which one do we follow?

In 2018, the Department of Labour made adjustments to the minimum wage of domestic workers, which ran thusly:

Remember those figures. 

A little over a month later, on 1 January, the National Minimum Wage Act was introduced, effectively taking precedence over the sectoral determination. South Africa’s first national minimum wage was set at R20 per hour, but, according to Schedule 1 of the National Minimum Wage Act:

“Domestic workers are entitled to a minimum wage of R15 per hour from a date fixed by the President by proclamation in the Gazette.”

This date is yet to be set. According to the Department of Labour, though, employers are expected to pay the minimum wage (R15 per hour) as specified in the Act. 

You may find yourself wondering what happens to the domestic workers in Area One, who were supposed to be earning R16.03 per hour. 

Well, according to Section 4 (7) of the NMWA, where a worker receives a wage more favourable than the minimum wage, as a result of collective bargaining and / or sectoral determinations, the wage concerned (such as R16.03) stays as is.

So there you have it. According to the law, domestic workers who work in bigger metropolitan areas, and who work for less than 27 hours per week, must be paid a minimum of R16.03 per hour. All other domestic workers must be paid R15 per hour. 

How Can We Make Things Better?

Some of the other findings in the SweepSouth report have revealed that, despite being national legislature, 62% of domestic workers are not registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and 27% have no idea whether they’re registered or not. 

61% of domestic workers do not receive a payslip every month, and only 15% receive paid leave. 

85% do not have pension, 98% do not have a funeral plan and only 2% have any sort of medical aid. 

Only 14% are able to save any money per month.

R20 per hour is not a living wage for most South Africans, let alone R15. SweepSouth itself, for example, pays domestic workers roughly R33 per hour. They have UIF, they receive a contract and they all have accidental death and disability cover. 

Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth, said;

“It is essential that employers learn and understand their legal obligations to the domestic workers they employ.”

And that, essentially, is where we begin to fix the greater problem. Follow the law, understand your legal obligations, empower your employees and, wherever possible, give a little extra. 

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