Picture: ALON SKUY
Picture: ALON SKUY

Labour federation Cosatu has welcomed the approval by the cabinet of a bill proposing the  inclusion of domestic workers in the compensation for occupational diseases and injuries.

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill 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.

The draft amendment bill also proposes a rehabilitation and reintegration framework for workers returning to the workplace.

Cosatu parliamentary co-ordinator Matthew Parks said on Tuesday the federation welcomed the “long-delayed approval”. He noted that there were about 800,000 domestic workers in SA, who he said were among the most exploited and abused workers. “To date they have not been allowed to claim for injuries on duty,” said Parks.

“This is unconstitutional and immoral. The South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (Sadsawu) has done sterling work in championing the rights of domestic workers. This matter was won at the Supreme Court in 2019 and is now before the Constitutional Court.”

He said Cosatu was confident that the Constitutional Court will find in favour of domestic workers. Exactly a week ago, the top court heard an application for confirmation of orders by the North Gauteng High Court in May and October 2019. This came after Sylvia Mahlangu successfully  challenged the exclusion of domestic workers from the Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (Coida) at the high court.

Sylvia is the surviving daughter of deceased domestic worker Maria Badanile Mahlangu, who worked for the De Clercq family for 22 years.

On March 31 2012, Maria drowned in her employer’s pool during the execution of her duties. The De Clercqs offered the bereaved family less than R5,000, prompting Sylvia to approach the department of employment & labour to lodge a grievance.

The department advised her that she was not entitled to any compensation as a result of her mother’s death, leading to her mounting a legal challenge on the constitutionality of the act.

The court declared a section of the act constitutionally invalid to the extent that it excludes domestic workers employed in private households from the definition of “employee”.

In October, the same court further ruled that the declaration of invalidity must be applied retrospectively to provide relief to domestic workers who were injured or died at work before the granting of the order.

On behalf of Sylvia and the Sadsawu, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (SERI) approached the top court to confirm the two orders granted by the North Gauteng High Court in 2019. Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng reserved judgment.

Parks said they condemned the “lethargic speed at which government and parliament have moved to deal with this matter”.

He said the bill was processed by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in June 2018: “Almost two years later, despite repeated commitments to do so, government has still not tabled it in parliament. This has resulted in thousands of injured domestic workers being left unprotected and uninsured.”

He called on the department of employment & labour to ensure that the bill was tabled in parliament within 30 days.

Employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi and his spokesperson Sabelo Mali could not immediately be reached for comment.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za