Wage rights for domestic workers and nannies: Here's the law

Yes, we'd all love to pay our domestic workers more than the minimum wage, but one mom writes in explaining that that's easier said than done when you're the sole breadwinner for your family.
Yes, we'd all love to pay our domestic workers more than the minimum wage, but one mom writes in explaining that that's easier said than done when you're the sole breadwinner for your family.
"My wages as nanny and housekeeper are R650 per week, I feel it's unfair for R130 per 9 hour day."
"Hi, my girlfriend is working 7 to 4, but she gets R2 000 as domestic worker. Is this right?"  
"My boss pays me R3 500 per month, I look after the kids 7am to 5pm in the week, and she wants me to always have airtime when I’m with the kids, for emergencies. Is this legal?"

These are just a few of the emails and messages we receive at Parent24 every month.

To help nannies and domestic workers to know their rights, we asked Gabriella Razzano, a legal consultant on issues of transparency, open data, technology and law, and Founding Director of OpenUp, to provide insight and assistance. 

This is her response.

Domestic workers are a fundamental pillar of the South African economy.

The most recent Quarterly Labour Survey show that 1 027 000 people (mostly women) are employed as domestic workers. But in spite of this importance, the labour environment for women doing this work is notoriously precarious.

While domestic workers have specific rights in relation to leave, written particulars of employment, and others, Parent24 has received many queries relating to what constitutes pay, and fair pay (particularly in light of recent changes to the Basic Minimum Wage).

So, what does the law, but also ethics, require?

National Minimum Wage

In January 2019, with much fanfare, a National Minimum Wage came into effect. The wage was set at a (paltry) R20 an hour (or R3 500 a month).

However, there was a notable exception to this: farm workers and domestic workers.

Politicians decided that increases to the domestic worker minimum wage would be increased more gradually over time.

Also read: Are you paying your nanny a living wage? Probably not

So what is this minimum?

This is set between the National Minimum Wage Act read with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (Sectoral Determination 7: Domestic Work of 3 December 2018).

The rate is R15 per hour, except for those living in ‘Area A’ that work less than 27 hours a week for whom it is R16.03 an hour (see list below).

How then do I calculate my hours?

The National Minimum Wage Act helps guide you on how to do this. It is important to note that the amount payable to you must not ‘include’:

  • any payment made to enable you to work including money for transport, equipment, tools, food or accommodation allowances;
  • any payment ‘in kind’, including board or accommodation; or
  • gratuities including bonuses, tips or gifts.

    So your employer cannot suggest to you that transport money or lunch is part of your minimum salary - your R15 an hour must be on top of these payments.

There are deductions that can however be made to your minimum salary, the most noteworthy of which is your Unemployment Insurance Fund contribution. 

So generally, this means that if you work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for a month, you must be paid at least R2 400. 

Also read: The Nanny Series: All you need to know

How much should I be paid?

The truth is that the National Minimum Wage Act hasn’t done much to improve conditions for domestic workers.

OpenUp’s Living Wage Calculator shows that, if you were paid the minimum wage of R15 an hour, this would most likely only meet 35% of the average domestic workers household needs.

SweepSouth, which is a platform to connect domestic workers to households on a freelance basis, pay around R30 an hour in comparison.

A 2018 poll of domestic workers also said that the average interviewed domestic worker earned R3500 a month (but this still only meets around 50% of a household's basic needs). 

Also read: Is your family poor, middle class or rich? Find out here

What can I do if I’m not being paid enough?

It is important to know, in terms of fighting for better conditions in the long term, that there are two domestic worker unions in South Africa: the South African Domestic and Allied Workers Unions, and United Domestic Workers of South Africa.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (who are expecting a 25% increase to the caseload as a result of minimum wage disputes!) could also be approached for advice, or - if a dispute between you and your employer arose - be applied to to hear your case.  

However, sometimes coming to a fairer agreement in consultation with your employer (which is written down and signed by both of you) can give you better outcomes. When negotiating with your employer, be sure to consult with other domestic workers in your area to help get back up to your wage demands.

Area A:

Bergrivier Local Municipality, Breederivier Local Municipality, Buffalo City Local Municipality, Cape Agulhas Local Municipality, Cederberg Local Municipality, City of Cape Town, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, Drakenstein Local Municipality, Ekurhulen Metropolitan Municipality, Emalahleni Local Municipality, Emfuleni Local Municipality, Ethekwini Metropolitan Unicity, Gamagara Local Municipality, George Local Municipality, Hibiscus Coast Local Municipality, Karoo Hoogland Local Municipality, Kgatelopele Local Municipality, Khara Hais Local Municipality, Knysna Local Municipality, Kungwini Local Municipality, Kouga Local Municipality, Langeberg Local Municipality, Lesedi Local Municipality,  Makana Local Municipality, Mangaung Local Municipality, Matzikama Local Municipality, Metsimaholo Local Municipality, Middelburg Local Municipality, Midvaal Local Municipality, Mngeni Local Municipality, Mogale Local Municipality, Mosselbaai Local Municipality, Msunduzi Local Municipality, Mtubatu Local Municipality, Nama Khoi Local Municipality, Nelson Mandela, Nokeng tsa Taemane Local Municipality, Oudtshoorn Local Municipality, Overstrand Local Municipality, Plettenbergbaai Local Municipality, Potchefstroom Local Municipality, Randfontein Local Municipality, Richtersveld Local Municipality, Saldanha Bay Local Municipality, Sol Plaatjie Local Municipality, Stellenbosch Local Municipality, Swartland Local Municipality, Swellendam Local Municipality, Theewaterskloof Local Municipality, Umdoni Local Municipality, uMhlathuze Local Municipality and Witzenberg Local Municipality.


Chat back:

Share your stories with us, and we could publish them. WhatsApp: Send messages and voicenotes to 066 010 0325. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.

Read more:

Who is eligible to pay child maintenance?

Can I force my mother-in-law’s sons to support her financially? A legal expert responds

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