Domestic workers will have cover for illness and death in the workplace when the compensation act is amended. Picture: THE HERALD
Domestic workers will have cover for illness and death in the workplace when the compensation act is amended. Picture: THE HERALD

SA’s domestic workers have called on the government to declare them contributors to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to access the Covid-19 relief benefits the employment and labour department is disbursing.

On March 25, minister Thulas Nxesi established the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Felief scheme (Ters), administered by the UIF, to provide relief to those in formal employment expected to lose their income due to the  coronavirus lockdown.

The UIF has disbursed more than R11bn in Covid-19 relief benefits to date.

On April 28, Nxesi called on employers — especially those in the farming and domestic sectors — to help their workers claim from Ters, saying some 20,000 employees who are entitled to claim for benefits have not yet done so.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), on behalf of the SA Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (Sadsawu), announced on Tuesday that it had made recommendations to Nxesi, UIF commissioner Teboho Maruping, and the National Coronavirus Command Council, “seeking a declaration of domestic workers as UIF contributors” so as to access income protection during the national state of disaster.

The recommendations were endorsed by the United Domestic Workers’ of SA, and Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance.

Seri said the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected 11,350 and killed 206 people in the country, has had a “devastating impact” on domestic workers.

“A mere 20% of domestic workers are registered for UIF. This means that the majority of domestic workers cannot access Ters because domestic employers did not fulfil their legal obligation to register them.”

There are more 1-million domestic workers in SA, according to Stats SA.

Sadsawu general secretary Myrtle Witbooi said the pandemic has resulted in a loss of income for many domestic workers, saying most of them had been threatened with the no work, no pay principle, and were not benefiting from Ters. “We urge the department of employment and labour to seriously address this,” she said.

Seri’s letter recommended that Nxesi and the UIF board declare domestic workers UIF contributors, and that the employment and labour department “create a mechanism for domestic workers to access Ters directly from the department, as individuals, or collectively through their unions”.

Nxesi’s spokesperson Sabelo Mali told Business Day on Wednesday, “There are a number of entities making requests to the minister, but the processing of any matter must go through the National Economic and Labour Council (Nedlac). We have received the letter [from Seri] and the matter is receiving the attention of Nedlac, which will advise the minister on the request.”

Evidence of work relationship

Mali said the number of domestic worker employers who have applied for Ters is 8,047, with the number of domestic workers receiving payment 11,288, with the total amount paid being R44,389,886.

“This means domestic worker employers are applying on behalf of their employees and are being paid,” said Mali. “In terms of legislation, the burden of compliance lies solely with the employer. As a department we administer the UIF Act, which requires the employer to register, declare and contribute for employees. What is important is the availability of evidence for the employer/employee relationship so we can process the claim for the employee or domestic worker in any situation,” he said.

In March, the Constitutional Court reserved judgment on an application by Seri on behalf of domestic workers, to declare a section of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Coida) 130 of 1993 constitutionally invalid to the extent that it excludes domestic workers employed in private households from the definition of “employee”.

However, a week later, the Cabinet approved the Coida Amendment Bill, which proposes the inclusion of domestic workers. The bill also provides for the inclusion of domestic workers as employees qualifying for benefits under the act and for the improvement of compensation benefits for employees in general.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za