Behind every successful businessman or woman is a humble woman in a maid’s outfit back home walking your dog, feeding your children and generally making sure that your household is run smoothly.

For years, domestic workers have been among the most exploited of all workers – labouring long hours for meagre pay, sometimes on the receiving end of abuse by their employers. However, measures have been put in place to improve their situation under the so-called “Domestic Workers Act” (i.e. Sectoral Determination 7 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act). This means a minimum wage has been set, specific working conditions laid down, and other measures have been put in place to regulate a previously unregulated industry.

Who is a Domestic Worker?

Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act, 2002 defines a domestic worker as “a gardener, driver or person who looks after children, the aged, sick, frail or disabled in a private household, but not on a farm.”

The Domestic Workers’ Act

The Domestic Workers’ Act sets a minimum wage for domestic workers and specifies working conditions such as hours of work, overtime pay, salary increases, deductions, annual and sick leave.

Presently, domestic workers employed in the Pietermaritzburg area that work more than 27 hours a week should be paid not less than an hourly rate of R11.44 and those that works less than 27 hours a week should be paid not less than an hourly rate of R13.39.

If your domestic worker works on a Sunday or public holiday, they must receive double pay. You must also ensure that your domestic worker does not work more than 45 hours a week. If your domestic worker lives on your property you may deduct 10% of their salary for accommodation, provided that the accommodation you provide complies with certain minimum standards laid down in legislation.

If you dismiss your domestic worker you are required to give a weeks’ notice if your domestic worker has been employed for 6 months or less and 4 weeks’ notice if he or she has worked for more than 6 months. Domestic workers are also entitled to severance pay of 1 week for each year of service, 4 months’ unpaid maternity leave and he or she is entitled to take up to 6 weeks of sick leave on full pay in a 3-year period. However, during the first 6 months of employment, only 1 day’s paid sick leave is allowed for every 26 days worked. You are also required to register your domestic worker for the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

The contribution that domestic workers make to our economy (and many of our individual lives!) is often taken for granted and it is therefore up to each of us to ensure that not only do domestic workers in our employ receive the benefits that the legislation prescribes, but also that they are treated fairly and with dignity.


By: Gareth Robert Harley – Commercial and Litigation

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