Government exposes shocking salaries and rules house maids and gardeners endure in SA


The Department of Employment and Labour has over the course of May conducted a number of inspections at employers operating in the domestic worker sector in Mpumalanga.

It found that many were lacking when it comes to compliance with labour legislation.

The inspections were to determine the employers’ compliance with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Sectoral Determination, including the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Act.

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Departmental spokesperson, Teboho Thejane, said that the outcome of this exercise has indicated a need for an advocacy session with the domestic worker’s sector.

The domestic worker’s sector has long been identified as a problematic sector when it comes to compliance with labour laws, with workers still paid lower wages and subjected to sorts of abuse and exploitation, Thejane said.

Inspections and resulting seminars by the department come in a year in which for the first time the National Minimum Wage for domestic workers has fallen in line with other sectors.

Furthermore, domestic workers can now be registered as employees with the Compensation Fund against injuries on duty.

Domestic worker pay

From 1 March 2022, the National Minimum Wage for each ordinary hour worked increased from R21.69 to R23.19. For domestic workers, the increase in minimum wage was much larger, from a rate of R19.09 per hour – 88% of the national minimum wage in 2021.

Assuming a domestic worker is working 160 hours a month (eight hours a day, 20 days a month), the monthly wage comes to R3,710 for the month.

While this is the absolute lowest that South Africans can legally pay their domestic worker, data published by cleaning service SweepSouth in 2021 shows not only a dramatic drop in earnings due to the pandemic, but a continued trend of domestic workers not earning enough to cover their most basic needs.

According to the data, domestic workers – who are not on the SweepSouth platform – earn between R2,614 and R2,916 a month.

The more worrying finding from the survey is that one in five domestic workers (21%) are earning less than R1,500 a month, and two-thirds earned below 2021’s minimum wage. Only 1% reported earning more than R6,000 a month.

For a 40-hour week, the minimum wage translates to approximately R4,019 per month, and R4,522 for 45 hours per week.

“Overtime must be paid for any hours worked beyond 45 hours, and should be paid at 1.5 times the employee’s normal wage. Overtime pay for domestic workers is R34.79 per hour at minimum,” stated Amy Tekie, co-founder, Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance.

Basic human rights 

A report published in January by Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance and Solidarity highlighted human rights violations against live-in domestic workers in South Africa.

The report described how employers and sectional title complexes regularly impose rules that directly violate workers’ constitutional rights, including rights to privacy, freedom of movement, family life, and adequate housing.

“These violations go unchecked because of the private spaces in which they operate, and the large degree of informality and vulnerability in the domestic work sector,” said Tekie.

Findings contained in the report:

  • 25% of respondents are not able to lock their room or cottage;
  • 77% are not allowed to have a spouse or child live with them;
  • 12% said their employer has rules about what food they can eat during their off hours;
  • 20% said their employer had rules about where they could go during their off-hours;
  • 17% said that their employer has rules about whether they can have a baby.

Over three-quarters of respondents residing in the staff quarters of a complex, apartment building or estate are not allowed to have visitors, and half are not allowed to make use of the common areas, the report found.

New Bill

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill, first introduced to parliament in September 2020 by labour and employment minister Thulas Nxesi, has been sent to president Cyril Ramaphosa to be signed into law.

The bill aims to further formalise the domestic worker sector, allowing for the qualification for benefits under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.

Until now, domestic workers have been excluded from these benefits – an oversight the government said has gone on for too long.

Under the new laws, domestic workers who are injured at work can claim from the Compensation Fund, and the dependents of a domestic worker who died as a result of injuries incurred while on duty will also be able to claim.

It is also mandatory for employers of domestic workers and employees to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

The bill also defines labour broking as part of the “main employer” and holds the main employer responsible for injuries that take place in the workplace.