The National Minimum Wage Commission has recognised that the minimum wage for domestic workers should be increased to be at the same level as that of all other workers.
Domestic workers include gardeners, drivers and people who look after children, the aged, sick, frail and disabled in a private household and, of course, house workers.
Domestic workers’ minimum wage was, under the National Minimum Wage Act of 2018, set at 75% of the national minimum wage and was increased to 88% in 2021.
In 2021, the minimum wage for domestic workers was R19.09 an hour while for everyone else it was R21.69. This is a 12% difference.
In early January the department of employment and labour announced that a majority of commissioners recommended the national minimum wage should be increased by one percentage point above inflation, which would take the 2022 rate to R23 an hour, up from R21.69.
The commission also recommended that, in 2022, the minimum wage for domestic workers should be increased to be in line with the national minimum wage of all workers.
The updated minimum wage for domestic workers is expected to be published in the coming months after the commission takes inputs and recommendations on minimum wage adjustments. The proposed 2022 minimum wage of R23 an hour equates to R3 680 for eight hours of work for a five-day week.
Nontobeko Mdhluli, the owner of Nanny Maids SA, a placement agency, said the new minimum wage is reasonable.
“Most employers we work with will not find it exorbitant. Those who do find it exorbitant should be encouraged to reflect on their living expenses and honestly consider whether the average South African can survive at a below minimum wage,” she said. “If one is honest in this reflection, then it might be easier to concede that this increase is both reasonable and justifiable.”
Florence Sosiba, a domestic worker and president of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, said if the minimum wage increases to that of other workers, they will feel recognised.
“Domestic work was not recognised as work. Even if you fall ill and have to stop work, you just go and you have nothing. Something as simple as using a different chemical that affects you resulting in health issues was not understood. Sometimes I feel pain.”
Only recently has legislation covered domestic workers in terms of occupational injuries. In March 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act be extended to include domestic workers in private households.
Sosiba said that although domestic workers appreciate the recognition, there are still those who earn below the 2021 minimum wage because employers are not increasing domestic workers’ salaries, especially those of migrant workers.
“The department of labour must help us ensure that the minimum wage is implemented and everyone receives it,” she said. “We need them to assist us on how we are going to deal with this so that everyone complies. Even if you don’t pay more, you must pay the minimum wage. Employers must comply.”
The department said that in the third quarter of 2021, from October to December, it received 46 complaints relating to unfair wages. During the same period the department conducted 2 864 inspections in the domestic worker’s sector to monitor compliance with the National Minimum Wages Act.
Agnes Mpofu has been working for a family of five since 2007 and earns R2 000 a month, but says she is afraid to ask for a salary increase.
When she first went to work for the family she earned R800 a month and over the years it was gradually increased to R1 800. It was only in 2019 that she got the courage to ask for a pay rise; it was raised by R200. Now, the thought of asking for another increase frightens her.
Mpofu is from Zimbabwe and she said the reason her employer is not adhering to the current 2021 minimum wage of R19.09 an hour — or R3 700 a month — is the family taking advantage of the fact that she is a migrant worker.
“Bathatha iadvantage ngalokhu ukuthi ukuba ngiyakhuluma bese bayangixosha, ngizowuthola kuphi omunye umsebenzi? [They are taking advantage of me because they know they can easily fire me. Where will I find another job?]”
According to a 2021 paper by the International Labour Organisation, domestic work is one of the main sources of work for migrants in Southern Africa and it is driving migration, especially to South Africa.
“The National Minimum Wage Act, 2018, states that every worker in South Africa shall be paid the national minimum wage per hour, it does not discriminate on the nationality or residence status of that worker,” said the department of employment and labour.
Gumtree’s marketing manager Estelle Nagel said that domestic workers continue to be over-supplied and undervalued in South Africa and part of the reason “is this feeling that people can enter this position quite easily and it is maybe perceived as a low-skilled job”.
Nearly 2 000 domestic cleaning positions are currently listed on Gumtree’s classified adverts.
According to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the third quarter of 2021, there were 856 000 domestic workers employed in that period.
Nagel said the site still gets job listings that offer salaries below the minimum wage and there is nothing Gumtree can do to rectify this.
“It’s important for both parties to understand their rights. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of the desperation of job seekers,” she said. “Even if the applicant accepts the salary, you can still land in hot water, so don’t pay your staff less than their due.”
Stingy employers face hefty fines
The department of employment and labour said the repercussions for employers who underpay their employees includes a labour inspector issuing a compliance order.
The compliance order is then referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and will include calculations backdated from when the non-compliance occurred — but not for more than three years.
A fine will then be issued in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
For first-time offenders, the fine will be double the amount underpaid, and it will be three times the amount underpaid for second-time offenders. The claimed amount plus the fine are then paid to the domestic worker.
According to the sectoral determination for domestic workers in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, all domestic workers should be paid at least the current minimum wage, which is just under R3 700 a month or R19.09 an hour.
Those who have earned more than the prescribed minimum will continue to earn the higher wages, because conditions of employment cannot be changed unilaterally.
An employer who fails to comply with the National Minimum Wage Act can be reported to the department of employment and labour.
Alternatively, the domestic worker can lodge a case of unfair wages directly with the CCMA in terms section 73A of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
Domestic workers can be protected from being taken advantage of and exploited through advocacy and inspections, said the department of employment and labour.
The department said it has advocacy programmes wherein employees and employers are informed of their rights and obligations.
A seminar for domestic workers will be held in February on a number of topics and issues, including the national minimum wage. — Anathi Madubela
Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian