At home with the law - how to treat your domestic worker

By Mieke Vlok
24 March 2017

Are you treating your domestic helper fairly? Here’s what the law says - plus advice on making life easier for your employee.

They're invaluable in many people’s lives – running the home, cooking dinner and taking care of the kids while their bosses go off to work. Yet despite being so crucial to the status quo, domestic helpers often have to put up with poor salaries and unfair working conditions – and recent updates to the minimum wages required for helpers are unlikely to make much of a bulge in anyone’s wallet.

The labour department announced that domestic helpers – including housekeepers, gardeners, nannies and drivers– working in urban areas should be paid a new hourly rate of R12,42 if they work27 hours or more a week. For them the minimum weekly wage is R559,09 while the minimum monthly wage is R2 422,54.In rural areas the new minimum wage for a 27-hour week is R11,31 an hour,R508,93 a week and R2 205,16 a month. This means domestic helpers should get a monthly increase of close to R200, the labour department says.

But many believe this increase – effective from 1 December – is way too little. It’s just a drop in the ocean, says Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU).

“It’s good they’re thinking about domestic workers but it doesn’t do anything to their lives and they still live in poverty,” Witbooi says. Just because the law says you must pay your employee a certain amount doesn’t mean you should force them to make do with the absolute minimum, she adds.

Read more: Wanted: ‘Nice-smelling domestic’ for R2 000 a month

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Many people think they don’t have to go through the proper steps when employing a domestic helper. The law requires employers to abide by the rules below but you should keep in mind these are only the basic stipulations.

You and your domestic helper can come to an agreement that suits you both, provided it conforms at the very least to these requirements. Make sure everything you’ve agreed on is clearly set out in an employment contract as this protects both of you.

  • Working hours

A domestic helper may not work for more than 45 hours a week, nine hours a day for five consecutive days at a time or for eight hours a day for six consecutive days at a time. A working day may not be longer than 12 hours, and if overtime is required, payment must be one-and-a-half times the usual rate. Alternatively you can agree on paid leave in exchange for overtime.

  • Lunch

Domestic helpers are entitled to an hour a day for the midday meal, which should be taken within five hours of starting work. You can agree in writing to shorten their lunch break to give them more frequent breaks but lunch may not be shorter than 30 minutes.

  • Sundays

Domestic helpers may not be forced to work on Sundays. But if they agree to do so they must be paid twice the usual rate. If working every Sunday is part of a contract, they may be paid one-and-a-half times the usual rate.

  •  Unemployment insurance

Domestic helpers who work more than 24 hours a month must be registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). This is to protect them if they become unemployed. All necessary information can be found on the labour department’s website, labour.gov.za. S Payslips Domestic helpers should receive a payslip each month with both your names as well as the place of work, their wages and details of any deductions. Examples of contracts, payslips and other paperwork can be downloaded free from the labour department’s website.

  • Termination

If your domestic helper wants to resign or you want to give them notice, the parties are required to give two weeks’ notice if the employment period has been more than six months. If the employment period has been six months or less, a week’s notice is required from either side. If the domestic helper worked for more than a year, either party should give four weeks’ notice.

Notice should ideally be written but it can be verbal, provided the employee understands everything. If you don’t speak the same language, consider asking someone to explain the situation to them in their home language.

If your domestic helper lives in, they must be given a month to find another place to live. You must have a valid reason for giving them notice or they can report you to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

  • Transport allowance

Although the law doesn’t make provision for this, you should bear in mind how far your employee has to travel to get to work. Even a market-related wage wouldn’t benefit them much if they have to spend a third of it on transport costs.

  • Leave

Domestic helpers are entitled to 21 consecutive days’ paid leave a year. You can also agree on one day’s leave for every 17 days worked or one hour for every 17 hours worked. You can’t pay an employee instead of giving them leave unless the contract is being terminated.

As for sick leave, a domestic helper may take up to six weeks’ sick leave on full pay in a three-year period. But during the first six months of employment they’re entitled to only one day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days worked. You can request a medical certificate if they’re absent often or two days in a row.

A domestic helper is also entitled to maternity leave but you don’t have to pay them during this time – they’ll be able to claim from UIF. A pregnant or breastfeeding domestic may not be forced to do work that poses danger to her or her child.

A full-time domestic helper is entitled to three days’ paid family responsibility leave to look after sick children or attend funerals, for example. In these cases you can request proof.

You can come to an agreement about working on public holidays, with payment for this being twice the usual daily rate.

Read more: Domestic workers want R3000

WHEN MAY YOU DEDUCT MONEY?

The law says employers may deduct money for medical insurance, savings, pension fund, union membership, investments and rent. If your domestic helper borrows money from you, you may deduct up to 10 percent of the loan a month until it’s paid. You may not deduct money for breakages, food, clothes you’ve given them or training.

TIP

Go to labour.gov.za and click on the link for domestic workers for information, tips and documents.

Make their lives easier

Employers have more resources than domestic helpers and there are a number of ways in which you can help them, says Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU).

Read more: Employer saves domestic worker’s breech baby as she gives birth on the living room floor

Get their paperwork in order

Make sure your domestic helper has an ID, proof of address and other important documents. Give them time off to go to the department of home affairs and help them obtain these important documents if they don’t have them.

Help them save Suggest to your domestic helper that you save part of their wages every month and agree on whether you’ll keep it for them as an emergency fund or long-term savings.

Improve their skills

If you can, give your domestic helper the opportunity to empower themselves. There are many classes and courses your domestic helper may be interested in that could benefit both of you such as cooking, first aid, childcare, swimming, sewing and basic business admin. Also consider arranging driving lessons for your worker.

Prevent exploitation

Because they’re in a low-income group domestic helpers can be vulnerable. If they want to take out a loan or buy something on credit, ask them to bring the paperwork for you to look at first. This could prevent them being saddled with a sky-high interest rate.

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