Domestic workers seek legal job security

Domestic workers, from left, Festa Wilson, Thabisa Matroos and Gerty Kameli at the meeting in Port Elizabeth
Picture: Fredlin Adriaan

Growing concerns that domestic workers will lose their jobs amid tough economic times was behind a consultative session hosted by the provincial Department of Social Development in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

With the aim of addressing issues of legislation in terms of employee rights for domestic workers, various stakeholders including employers and domestic workers themselves attended the session at the Protea Child and Youth Care Centre in Forest Hill.

Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi was supposed to attend but pulled out at the last minute citing a family crisis.

Department spokesman Mzukisi Solani said Sihlwayi was in Port Elizabeth but had to deal with a last-minute family emergency.

The event was facilitated by the department’s Victim Empowerment Programme under the theme of “Victims’ Rights”.

According to Solani, there was growing concern that domestic workers were vulnerable to losing their jobs.

“Households are under tremendous financial pressure, having to cut spending costs amid rising inflation, fuel and electricity price hikes, and job uncertainty,” he said.

Solani said another major issue facing domestic workers who worked in private homes was that they were not covered by the Compensation Act.

“If a person employed privately is injured at work, their only recourse is to make a civil claim under common law,” he said.

This was a costly exercise in which the onus lay on the domestic worker, or her dependants, to prove to the court that she was injured at work.

“Domestic workers injured at work still do not get compensation. Those who suffer debilitating accidents still end up unemployed and penniless,” he said.

Those attending the event said they did not feel protected under the current legislation and wanted to see more laws instituted to protect them.

Festa Wilson, 42, of Greenbushes, who has been working as a part-time domestic worker for the past four years, said she did not feel protected by current laws.

“Some of us workers don’t have someone to go to. Sometimes they quarrel [with employers] or get fired and there is no one to protect them,” she said.

Fellow Greenbushes resident Thabisa Matroos, 31, said she found it difficult to find a decent job to look after her two children and had been working as a domestic worker for the past year earning as little as R70 a day.

“I want the government to help us. We earn very little. We need [a] union to fight for us,” she said.

Uitenhage resident Gerty Kameli, 39, said she had been working as a domestic worker for eight years and worked at different households during the week.

“The laws must change to help protect us. Hopefully, this event will help change things,” she said.

Farm owner Noxolo Kula, 59, of Uitenhage, who also attended the event said she was there to see what the situation was.

“I work with these people so I must understand their rights as well,” she said.

Kula has been farming vegetables just outside of Uitenhage since 2010 and employs locals as casual staff and seasonal workers.

Solani said the event would help domestic workers in formalising advocacy groups.

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