Decent work for domestic workers: Seminar with Department, civil society & unions

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Employment and Labour

01 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee held a seminar on decent work for domestic workers, in which it heard submissions from several stakeholders. A previous seminar had been held in 2010, when the stakeholders were still campaigning to have the Convention on Domestic Work accepted at the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This Convention (C189) and Resolution 201 were formally adopted by the ILO on 16 June 2011. The task was now to define what this meant for the sector, and what needed to be done to implement it in South Africa.

The Department of Labour outlined that it had been instrumental in initiating, formulating and championing the Convention on Domestic Work at the International Labour Organisation. Domestic work was defined, in the Convention, as work performed for or in households. The Convention provided for special protection of domestic workers (DWs) who were particularly vulnerable due to their age, nationality, or live-in status. Domestic workers had to have the same basic labour rights as all other workers, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The basic principles of the Convention were outlined, and it was stressed that all of these sought to protect domestic workers against abuse, to promote their rights, including confidentiality of their data, and privacy, and the need for labour inspectors to monitor the situation. The Department stressed that the Convention still needed to be ratified by Parliament. It was ready to implement, but acknowledged that further work was needed in areas of occupational health and safety as labour brokers.

The Black Sash stressed the economic aspects of domestic work, as well as the fact that most domestic workers were women, and argued that promotion of decent domestic work would empower work, redistribute wealth effectively and help to uplift whole families whose mothers were domestic workers. Domestic workers had to have access to social rights and social wages. Since this was not a well-organised sector, the role of the State must be strengthened to protect workers, and social dialogue was urgently needed.

The South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) recognised that South Africa had made huge strides in protecting DWs, when compared to other countries, but urged that the Convention must be ratified soon. This Convention recognised that domestic workers needed as much protection as other categories of workers. Domestic work was under-estimated, but it played a major role in building the economy, because it allowed the employer to create his or her own wealth, whilst the household was cared for. The problems included the fact that “domestic work” was a collective name for a variety of functions, that occupational health and safety legislation did not apply to domestic workers, that there was no retirement fund for them, and that most were not registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). SADSAWU had asked other unions to assist in organising domestic workers and wanted to present awareness programmes. It asked the Department to set up transparent processes with all stakeholders to discuss the setting of minimum wages and conditions, amendments needed to legislation and monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance.

The National Services and Allied Workers Union said that the concept of “decent work” and its deficiencies must be understood, and urged that employers as well as employees must be educated about a number of issues. DWs, as they worked alone and behind closed doors, were vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse. There were few opportunities for skills development and career pathing, and systems to ensure employer compliance were not effective. Labour brokerage in this sector was also problematic. A further problem was that ID documentation and passports were often confiscated by employers, particularly of migrant workers. It urged that wage levels, skills development and labour brokering had to be addressed urgently.

The Social Law Project, University of Western Cape, also urged that the Convention must be ratified urgently, and that it must be placed on the agenda for the National Economic Development and Labour Council. It urged the trade unions to educate DWs in their position and rights, as also in what recourse was open to them when these rights were violated. Appropriate organs to articulate demands for change and pursue demands were also needed. The contribution of DWs to the economy must be recognised and the obstacles to their basic rights must be identified and addressed. The lessons from best international practice must be adopted. A culture of compliance by both DWs and employers must develop and DW must be accepted as skilled and decent work. The Project urged Government to draw on the collective resources of those present at the seminar to form structured partnerships to deal with the task effectively. Currently, there was fragmentation on the work in this sector, and although legislative mechanisms did exist to ensure the rights, there was difficulty in implementation, for a variety of reasons ranging from the difficulty in organising the sector, the individual nature of the work, the one-on-one relationship between worker and employer and the divergence of data.

The Ubuntu Development Forum (UDF) also stressed that because domestic workers worked alone and behind closed doors they were particularly vulnerable and found it hard to seek recourse. The sector was not formalised, and contractual obligations were either not present, or not enforced. There was gender based discrimination, and exploitation of migrant workers, and many employers preferred to employ foreign nationals because they would be less likely to insist on their rights, for fear of being reported, which led to tension between nationals and foreigners. It urged the Departments of Labour and Home Affairs to act to prevent exploitation of foreign workers, to address human trafficking from poorer provinces and areas, and to provide proper training and education, to ensure that domestic workers could become more mobile in the economy. Unions also had to be strengthened.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) noted that its take on the Convention was slightly different, because of its different background. Whilst COSATU supported the Convention, it stressed that it was merely a minimum foundation and that standards set needed to be fully accepted, and mechanisms developed by all ratifying states to ensure that decent domestic work actually moved away from race, class and gender patterns set by apartheid. Decent work was part of a developmental goal, and decent employment was the way out of poverty. Domestic workers not only worked in isolation and behind closed doors, but there were unequal power relations, and practical barriers to unionising and collective bargaining. COSATU supported the move towards a living wage, stressed that access to social protection was also needed, including retirement funds, and noted its opposition to those between 15 and 18 having to work for a living. It noted that the strong unions had now been levied to enable domestic workers unions to become full affiliates of COSATU. The steps to be followed were ratification of the Convention, defining of standards, identifying and addressing the challenges of enforcement in this specific sector, and redefining domestic work and its value to the economy.

In discussion, those present addressed issues of how domestic work could be categorised, what should be done about labour brokers, when domestic workers were likely to receive compensation, the differences in statistics quoted, and the need to strengthen the implementation mechanisms.

Meeting report

Decent Work for Domestic Workers: Seminar
The Chairperson noted that the seminar on decent work for domestic workers was held as a follow-up to a seminar in 2010, when stakeholders were still campaigning for Convention 189 on Domestic Work (C189 or the Convention) to be adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Stakeholders now had to determine what had to be done to protect domestic workers (DWs), who were the most vulnerable workers in South Africa. Workers rights were human rights. Many domestic workers were still abused and underpaid. Employers did not comply with basic conditions of employment, and in many cases DWs were expected to work unreasonably long hours without rest. DWs were mostly women, who looked after the families of their employers, while being absent from, and thereby neglecting, their own families. Convention189 addressed reasonable hours of work, weekly rest, a limit to in-kind payments, the right to join a trade union and regulation of recruitment agencies. This Committee had to ensure that DW rights were on par with the rights of other workers.

Department of Labour (DoL) submission
Mr Nkosinathi Nhleko, Director General, Department of Labour, said that this was an important session because it dealt with unpacking the concept of decent work for DW, in terms of the Constitution and international labour standards governed by the ILO.

Mr Les Kettledas, Deputy Director General, Department of Labour, noted that the timing of this seminar was appropriate, in the lead-up to Women’s Day on 9 August. The 100th annual Conference of the ILO, held on 16 June 2011, had adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers (C189), which would improve the lives of the 53 million domestic workers across the world. In the words of Ms Myrtle Witbooi, General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU), “We are on the threshold of a new beginning for domestic workers in the world by setting international labour standards that will be a benchmark for decent work and social equality. For the last 24 months we have worked hard to reach many domestic workers, governments and employers’ organisations. As a result of our social dialogue we are optimistic that 16 June 2011 will go down in history”.

The two standards in future would be C189 and its Supplementary Recommendation 201 (R210 or the Recommendation), adopted by the ILO.

The Convention defined domestic work as work performed for or in households. It provided for special measures for the protection of workers who were particularly vulnerable due to their age, nationality, or live-in status. Domestic workers had to have the same basic labour rights as all other workers, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Fundamental principles and rights at work also included no forced labour, no discrimination, no unreasonable child labour practices, equal pay for work of equal value, and adherence to minimum age of employment. The Convention and Recommendation provided for working hours, terms and conditions of employment, and trial periods. It also set out the terms for recruiting across international borders, repatriation, and the freedom of the DW to reach agreement with his/her prospective employer on whether to reside on the premises. It also provided for minimum wage coverage, limited the part of a DW’s remuneration that could be paid in kind, and ensured the right to a safe and healthy working environment. It protected DWs against abuse, provided access to courts, tribunals and other dispute resolution mechanisms, recognised the right to privacy and the importance of the DW also protecting the privacy of the household members. It set a minimum age for domestic workers, spelt out the minimum requirements in respect of accommodation and meals, protected the confidentiality of their personal data and protected them from possible violence and endless working days. It included monitoring mechanisms through labour inspections.

Mr Kettledas then outlined that the South African legislative framework already provided for much of this, by way of the Constitution, which provided for freedom of association, the Labour Relations Act (LRA), which provided for access to dispute resolution mechanisms, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), which provided for conditions of employment, the establishment of sectoral determinations, minimum wage coverage, unemployment insurance coverage and social security coverage. However, the South African legislative framework fell short in terms of Occupational Health and Safety (although amendments were being drafted), the regulation of placement agencies (here too, amendments and proposed legislation was being drafted), provision for migrant workers regarding social security benefits and the right to repatriation.

Mr Kettledas outlined what could be done to promote the decent work agenda. Parliament could integrate the decent work agenda with other relevant programmes like job creation, social and rural development programmes. Civil society could contribute by supporting DWs, and by capacity building and skills development initiatives. The trade unions could contribute by the strengthening of organisational capacity, skills development, protecting the rights of workers and promoting their interests on the various platforms to which the unions had access.

The Department of Labour (DoL or the Department) felt that it was ready to deliver, because the legislative framework and the inspection and enforcement policy were in place, although there was a need to train on specific issues like gender issues, human trafficking, and the rights of migrant workers. It had strengthened the inspectorate. Domestic workers had access to dispute resolution mechanisms in the form of the
Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). In terms of skills development, the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) had already rolled out a number of training initiatives for domestic workers.

The Chairperson commented that the officials of the DoL had worked very hard to prepare for the ILO Convention, and had performed their task well. He encouraged the unions to work closely with the DoL, because the officials had proved how serious they were with the decent work campaign. The Black Sash was part of the international labour lobby.

He commented that Swaziland voted against the proposal, which was embarrassing to South Africa, its neighbouring Southern African Development Community (SADC) country. The United Kingdom (UK), one of the oldest democracies in the world, abstained from voting. The question always remained – what could be done to promote decent work?

Black Sash submission
Ms Phelisa Nkomo, Advocacy Manager, Black Sash, focused on the economic perspective. By its very nature, domestic work attracted large numbers of women. Many women were single parents themselves. It would assist in poverty alleviation if domestic work were to be made into decently-paid and decent work. When women had good access to income, they could uplift themselves and their families. Domestic workers, although sometimes seen on the periphery of society, and in the shadow, in fact played a powerful role in supporting other women. Domestic work was an important economic activity. The call for decent work could influence redistribution of wealth in the economy. Domestic workers had to have access to social rights and social wages. This sector was currently not well organised. The State had to assume a protective role and the space for social dialogue had to be highlighted. When discussing increases in the wages of DW, increases had to keep track of inflation and the rising cost of living.

South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) submission
Ms Myrtle Witbooi, General Secretary, SADSAWU, said that her Union recognised that South Africa had made huge strides, when compared to other countries, in protecting domestic workers. South Africa, and in particular the DoL, played a leading role in ensuring that the ILO adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers on 16 June 2011. The next step would be for South Africa to ratify the Convention. It could be the first country to do so in Africa and in the world. The adoption of this Convention meant that it was now internationally recognised that domestic workers fell into the same category as other workers.

Whilst this was an important and powerful principle, it did not necessarily change anything on the ground for domestic workers. Many DWs were still not organised, had no contracts, had no say in the conditions they worked under, or the wages they worked for, and were isolated from the institutions that existed to protect their rights. The “baasskap” mentality fostered under apartheid still remained in the attitudes of many employers towards their domestic workers. Power relations were grossly skewed in favour of the employer, and employers simply did not respect domestic workers.

Domestic work played a big role in building the economy, because it allowed the employers to go out and create wealth, safe in the knowledge that his/her household was well taken care of by the DW. “Domestic work” was a collective name for a large number of varied functions like cleaning, cooking, shopping, child care, frail care, nursing the sick and gardening. Domestic workers performed all these functions, freeing the employer to work and generate an income, yet they did not have the rights that other workers had. The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) did not apply to domestic workers. DWs did not have retirement or provident funds, and most were not registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). If they lost their jobs or fell pregnant, they had no income.

Ms Witbooi called on Parliament, the unions, the Department, employers and NGOs to work together to change attitudes of employers. South Africa still had to ratify the Convention and had to continue to redress the inequalities between domestic worker rights and worker rights in practice, in order to achieve decent work for DWs. She said that labour force surveys showed that during 2008-09, 200 000 DWs lost their jobs, which illustrated their vulnerability.

SADSAWU had asked other unions to get their members to help organise their DWs. SADSAWU now asked Parliamentarians to bring their DWs to Parliament on International Domestic Workers Day, so that SADSAWU could present an awareness programme. If all provincial legislatures did the same, the impact would be significant.

SADSAWU called upon  the DoL to set up transparent processes with all stakeholders, trade unions, employers and NGOs to discuss the setting of minimum wages and conditions, labour legislation and the design of monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance with the laws that related to domestic workers. SADSAWU believed that decent work for DW was attainable if all stakeholders worked together in a structured and consultative manner.

Social Law Project (SLP) of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) submission
A representative of the Social Law Project, University of the Western Cape, noted that the Domestic Worker Research Project (DWRP) was initiated in January 2009 to gain a better understanding of existing challenges for domestic workers, and of potential solutions. Government and Labour played a central role in the passing of C189. This recognised the social and economic importance of domestic work and challenged South Africa to build on its current efforts to promote labour standards for domestic workers.

The Social Law Project (SLP) called upon Parliament to ratify C189 to make it operative in South Africa. The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) played an important role in recommending the ratification of ILO conventions to Parliament, and C189 must be placed on the agenda for the next NEDLAC Council meeting. Parliament, when it ratified, needed to be mindful of the implications for national legislation.

The strategy for the empowerment of domestic workers would take a concerted effort by trade unions, academic institutions, international development organisations and NGOs, with the support of the DoL, to develop a programme that would have to reach the majority of DWs. Trade unions could educate DWs to understand their position and to identify challenges, to know their rights as workers and citizens, to know what recourse they had when their rights were violated, to articulate demands for change, and to develop appropriate organs for pursuing those demands. It was important to empower marginalised workers as part of the process of transformation envisaged by the Constitution. A process of education and popularisation was needed, driven by government trade unions and civil society to make the new norms and standards known and accepted amongst the broader public. Through legislative and policy development, full effect had to be given to C189 in the light of R201. The contribution of DWs to the national economy had to be recognised, obstacles to the enjoyment of basic rights by DWs had to be identified and addressed, and the lessons of international best practice had to be incorporated in law and practice.

Furthermore, in order to ensure decent work for DWs, a culture of compliance by DWs and employers had to develop. Domestic work had to be accepted as decent skilled work and had to be respected. The DoL acknowledged that more had to be done to raise awareness among employers and DWs. Experience taught that inspections as a primary means of promoting compliance did not work. Data had to be recorded more accurately, in order to measure compliance.

The SLP had established that the Labour Force Studies in May 2011 estimated that there were 1.18 million DWs in South Africa. The DoL UIF database in November 2010 said that there were 323 600 employees and 95 750 employers. The SLP urged Government to use the opportunity created by Parliament to draw on the collective resources of the group gathered at the seminar to form a structured partnership that would have the task of effectively promoting decent work for domestic workers, by implementing the strategy proposed.

National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU): affiliate National Services and Allied Workers Union (NSAWU) submission
Mr Sam Ndou, an official of NASAWU, an affiliate of NACTU, delivered an oral presentation. He noted that in order to appreciate the Convention, the concept of decent work, and its deficiencies, must be understood, and the South African situation had to be measured against the definition of “decent work”.

He noted that employers of DWs must be educated about the reasonable working hours for DWs, and other issues that had to be addressed were the low wages, exposure to physical risk, risks of assault and sexual abuse, and low job satisfaction. There was currently a lack of opportunity for skills development and development of a career path. DWs were people working under extreme pressure. The systems to ensure compliance by employers were not effective. The Inspectorate needed strengthening. Labour brokerage was a disturbing development in an already vulnerable sector. Temporary placements created more problems. In some instances, ID documentation or passports were confiscated by the employer.

NASAWU suggested that there must be urgent intervention in the level of wages paid to DWs. Skills development for DWs had to be prioritised. The Labour Inspectorate had to be strengthened. Labour brokering had to be abolished. A monitoring mechanism had to be established, especially to monitor migrant workers whose ID and travel documents were withheld by the employer.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) said that all the presentations revolved around decent work, which actually in many cases equated to decent remuneration. He asked what the current minimum wage was for DWs, per month, and how much maternity leave they were entitled to have.

Mr Kettledas replied that minimum wage for DWs was set at R7.72 per hour. According to the BCEA, DWs were entitled to four consecutive months of maternity leave.

Mr Virgil Seafield, Director, Department of Labour, replied that minimum wages were described in four categories, and he could make full details available to the Committee.

Mr Kettledas added that the DoL held public hearings around the setting of the minimum wage level and conditions of employment. He acknowledged that there needed to be full participation of the unions to get more information.

Mr Seafield added that maternity leave was set by sectoral determination. Broadly speaking, wages were set within the context of poverty alleviation, since different stakeholders would determine what the minimum wage had to be. Competing interests had to be balanced in this consideration. He agreed that the basis of setting the minimum wage had to be changed, since a study done by DoL showed a positive correlation between sectoral determination on poverty alleviation, and employment. Minimum wage setting had been addressed to some degree, and this did not have a negative influence on employment.

Ms Nkomo raised two comments from the Black Sash. On the question of balancing competing interests, when setting the minimum wage, she emphasised that more social dialogue was needed. Minimum living standards had to be set. She said that there had to be broader and more collective participation when the DoL had the sectoral determination discussions.

Mr Ndou said that where there were competing interests to determine the level of wages, the interests of the country had to become the decisive factor. The stakeholders had to go back to the drawing board.

Mr W Madisha (COPE) said that the point made by SADSAWU about the varied nature of domestic work was important, and asked how the existing laws would be properly implemented.

Nhleko said that the Department of Labour did need to discuss the policy question that Mr Madisha raised. The DoL had to decide whether it was going to follow the American model, where there was a broad services sector with different subdivisions like domestic worker, cleaner, security worker as sub-categories, or whether it would follow another route.

Mr Seafield noted that “domestic work” had to be defined, and said that, for instance, workers who worked for gardening services were not categorised anywhere.

Ms Witbooi confirmed that there was confusion around the definition of what exactly domestic work entailed, because there was, for instance, a question whether gardeners or drivers in a private household were also domestic workers.

Mr Madisha said that all participants agreed that DWs were currently exploited. He asked what the legislature had to do about this. In regard to implementation of current laws and rules, he noted that sometimes migrant workers begged for jobs and were “employed” without pay, working in exchange for accommodation only. The Social Law Project had said that labour brokers had to be closely monitored, if they were allowed to operate in this field, whereas NACTU suggested that labour brokering be abolished. 

Mr I Ollis (DA) said that in South Africa employees would too quickly seek protection from the unions. He thought that both DWs and employers had to be fully educated on the risks of sexual exploitation and other physical risks. Employers also generally tended not to know about occupational health and safety issues.

Mr Nhleko said that the fact that there were over 600 000 employer households on the UIF database was the result of education and awareness raising by the DoL. He realised that these efforts needed to be consolidated and advanced. DW organisations had to be strengthened. The Unions would have to tackle the issue of addressing abuse behind closed doors. The two processes would go hand in hand.

Mr Seafield agreed that much had been done to create awareness, but much more needed to be done. With DWs there was also a gender dynamic, since the majority of DWs were female. Withholding of travel and ID documents was one of the indicators of identifying trafficking.

Mr Ollis said that in 2010 he requested an investigation into the Compensation Fund and how it could be extended to cover domestic workers, but had been told that there were legislative problems. He asked how far the process had gone.

Ms Witbooi added that granting workers’ compensation to DWs had supposedly been in the pipeline for the last ten years, and asked what the next step would be.

Mr Seafield replied that discussions were under way to extend social security for DWs. A Provident Fund for DWs was being established. Social Security reform in the country would include a Provident Fund annuity and a pension fund for DWs. The current amendments to the Compensation Fund would draw the DWs under its protection. 

Ms Nkomo asked how this vulnerable sector, dominated by women, must be handled. She agreed that there was a need for social insurance. Significant State intervention was needed. The current generation of domestic workers, who were between 25 and 45 years old, needed development opportunities, as they were already active in the labour market, but needed access to training opportunities.

Ms Witbooi replied that skills development thus far had only been aimed at creating “better slaves”. DWs needed real skills development that made them mobile in the labour market.

Mr Kettledas said that the DoL data indicated that there were 647 000 registered DWs and 610 000 households that had DWs. Maternity benefits were included in the UIF. In June there were about 250 applications, of which 241 were approved. There were 161 illness benefits and 65 death benefits approved. There had been 1159 unemployment applications, of which 97% had been approved. The DoL had statistic on the access to UIF benefits.

Ms Witbooi did not agree with the DoL’s assertion that “most” DWs were registered for UIF, pointing out that many were not, and asked what was done about those not registered for UIF.

Ms Pamhidzai Bamu, Representative, Social Law Project, in relation to issues raised around labour brokers, said that the Convention set out the conditions for employment agencies. Abuses and complaints had to be registered and recorded. Roles and obligations had been clarified. The employer had been defined. It had been determined that fees charged had to be paid by the person hiring the DW, and were not to be deducted from the DW’s salary. The broader amendments had sought to protect the DW. Strict measures had to be in place and had to be enforced. At the moment labour brokers and agencies were a law unto themselves.

Mr Ndou felt that in regard to labour brokers, the DoL had a role to put “decent work” into effect. This must be done, firstly, by strengthening the Inspectorate, and secondly by managing the process with labour brokers. The legislation was good, but the challenges lay in implementation. By way of example, he said that cleaning sector undertook to train more than 200 inspectors, which the trade union had to fund. Although the DoL was not incapable of doing it, it needed to be resourced. Violations of both the BCEA and the LRA were reported to the DoL, but it seemed that there was no effective follow-up.

Mr Nchabeleng noted the SLP’s assertion that government should harness the expertise assembled at this seminar, so they could work together in a structured way. He wanted to know which role each party was going to play. He pointed out that many DWs had literacy challenges. He asked what the role was of the DoL in capacity building, and what the role was of UWC.

Mr Nchabeleng also commented that NASAWU had suggested that legislation be aligned with C189, and asked if there were suggestions as to what the DoL must do, immediately, to rectify the situation.

Ms Bamu responded that often academics were asked what they were bringing to the table, but the SLP had been engaging with stakeholders, including the trade unions, civil society and government, and it did attend functions or events held by the DoL, when invited. It also participated in discussions in Parliament, and attended the ILO events. It further invited the stakeholders to its own events and shared new information. All these efforts fed into each other, to further the cause of DWs.

Ms Fairooz Moolajee, Representative, Social Law Project, added comments on institutional arrangements. The C189 had been adopted, and now there was a question of how South Africa would go about implementing this Convention. The SLP had outlined the current weaknesses, which related to lack of awareness, insufficient enforcement, data and institutional weaknesses in the DoL. She noted that the DoL could not, on its own, determine what labour legislation was needed. Currently, the approach towards implementing the C189 was fragmented and incoherent. The Department of Social Development had approached the SLP to help with research in the same field. SLP, whenever it received a call to make a submission, would immediately consult with its social partners, so that a collective submission could be made. One year ago, the SLP made a submission to this forum. She noted, however, that in some ways the situation seemed to have regressed, because at that meeting the point about the difficulty in defining domestic work was also raised. The SLP had proposed the formation of a task team to address the issues, to report back to this Portfolio Committee within six months. The Task Team could then work on the weaknesses pointed out, like the lack of updated data and the need to raise awareness, which the DoL had acknowledged was currently limited. It was not only the responsibility of the government or the unions to raise awareness, but this required collective support, coherence and an appropriate mechanism.

Mr Nchabeleng was not sure that the situation had regressed, as suggested, and referred to the progress that had been made towards achieving decent work for domestic workers.

Ubuntu Development Forum (UDF) submission
Mr Sibusiso Makwedini, Chief Executive Officer, Ubuntu Development Forum, said that DWs worked alone and behind closed doors, and they were at the risk of sexual and emotional abuse, also happened behind closed doors. Although there were unions, it was difficult for DWs to reach them.  When they sought recourse at the unions, they faced their employers one on one, without support of any co-workers, and this was a challenge. Although the Forum (UDF) did not have the solution to this, it would like to stress that this was a problem.

The DWs sector was not formalised and often there were no contractual agreements or guiding principles setting out roles and obligations for the different parties. There were often no job descriptions. There was gender based discrimination. Migrant workers were exploited. Many had no papers and were in the country illegally. In cases where they had documents, their ID and passports were often confiscated by the employer. Employers in many cases would prefer to employ foreigners in South Africa, because local DWs insisted on their rights and the foreigners did not. These actions led to tensions amongst foreign and local DWs. The foreigners were seen as people compromising the struggle of the local DWs. The DoL and the Department of Home Affairs had to act together to stop the exploitation, especially of migrant workers.

Another issue was the human trafficking of DWs from the Eastern Cape and the Karoo to Cape Town. The women and girls were brought to the cities, and were sometimes also exploited sexually. The industry needed to be regulated. There needed to be contractual agreements for both employers and employees. DWs needed training by the SETAS, skills development or Adult Basic Education and Training. They also needed to be educated to know their rights, and trained in other skills, like art. They needed to be mobile in the economy. UDF had started an art training programme in Hout Bay.

A further problem was that many DWs also did not know where to go to complain about discrimination. They needed a mechanism. The unions had to be strengthened in order to play that role.

Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
Ms Prakashnee Govender, Parliamentary Office Coordinator, COSATU, delivered an oral presentation, stressing that because COSATU came from a different political and organisational background, it had a different view about the Convention. Although COSATU supported the Convention as a good starting point, it had to be understood that this was just a minimum foundation.  The standards set out in the Convention needed maximum compliance and buy-in, in the form of ratification by member states. South Africa would have to be careful how it defined the standards, so that they had meaningful effect. According to the latest quarterly labour force statistics, most of the 876 000 DWs were black African women. This entrenched the race class and gender arrangement that was part of the apartheid legacy. COSATU thought that these patterns entrenched by apartheid had to be departed from, by addressing decent work and broader developmental goals, so that DWs could participate in the economy in a more meaningful way.

In addition to the concept of decent work, it was necessary to consider the purpose of employment, which was to lead a person out of poverty. It was commonly believed that having any kind of work gave a person dignity. However, there was very little dignity in being trapped in poverty. Poverty employment led to inter-generational poverty, which was why it was so important to define decent work for DWs.

The challenges for organising DWs were different from those for organising factory workers. DWs worked in isolation, so tended to be less visible. Their low wages and unequal power arrangements were a problem. These were practical barriers to unionising and collective bargaining, which gave strength, in the case of other sectors. Individual negotiations at this low skill and wage level reduced the benefits. The question thus needed to be asked how DW could be supported in relation to collective bargaining. In themselves, low and irregular incomes of DWs were barriers to building a strong union, because unions, in order to resources themselves, depended on membership fees.

Despite the broad scope of DW, and the fact that employers were not only favoured, but were enabled themselves to access higher-skilled and higher-paid work, DW remained grossly undervalued and underpaid. DWs were generally vulnerable, more so because DW also intersected with other factors like child labour, migrant labour, human trafficking, xenophobia and the use of labour brokering (to which COSATU was unequivocally opposed). There was no common understanding of what “decent work” meant. Those who argued against principles of decent work created artificial barriers between workers and the unemployed. COSATU stressed that the working poor often were themselves supporting the unemployed, who were part of their lives and families.

Ms Govender set out that there were four pillars or goals of decent work. The first was the creation of decent and productive employment. COSATU supported the move towards a living wage, which must enable the worker to escape the cycle of inter-generational poverty, but also extend to addressing working conditions.

The second pillar would be access to social protection, which was a major problem, as DWs could easily become unemployed. Although they might have some coverage through UIF, they tended to use up the UIF quickly, and become vulnerable again. Most depended on the public health care system, had no retirement funds, and thus became dependent also on state pensions, whereas employers in other sectors would be able to contribute towards pension funds for their workers. This begged the question: Who was subsidising whom. At the end of the day the state was subsidising the employer, and the DW bore the hardship. Although there was no legislation that prevented DWs from enjoying workers rights, it was difficult for DWs and unions to reach each other.

Stronger dialogue was needed between the social partners. COSATU’s Central Committee had resolutions in June 2011, to the effect that not enough was being done to build solidarity between strong unions and unions of vulnerable sectors, and for this reason COSATU had instituted a financial levy on the strong unions, in order to cross-subsidise SADSAWU to become a full affiliate union of COSATU. COSATU also started a campaign for enforcement and an acknowledgement of culpability.  It urged its own members, officials and leaders who had domestic workers to ensure that they personally respected all the rights of their DWs. She was sure that some Parliamentarians would also be guilty of transgressions against DWs.

COSATU also had to review strategies to target vulnerable sectors like DWs and farm workers, who were difficult to organise. Other unions and civil society organisations could assist the DW unions in non-financial ways, such as providing office space.

Ms Govender noted that the minimum standards had to be redefined, and the Convention had to be strongly supported. The Bill of Rights provided for children between the ages of 15 and 18 to work, it that work was age appropriate. COSATU did not agree with this, as it entrenched the apartheid legacy in terms of race, class and gender. COSATU believed that no person under the age of 18 should have to work for a living.

Ms Govender summarised that COSATU believed that the first step was to ratify C189, and the second step would be to define the standards. Step three would be the challenge of enforcement, which was different from enforcement on the shop floor. Step four would be to redefine DWs and the value of DW to the South African economy.

Mr Boinamo asked whether there were any plans for providing working skills to DWs. He also asked whether there was any difference between the wage paid to local and foreign domestic workers.

Mr Kettledas said that the DoL made no distinction between a local DW and a foreign national DW. The DoL also did not make any distinction between a legally documented immigrant and an (illegal) undocumented immigrant. However, the Department of Home Affairs held employers responsible for financing the repatriation of undocumented workers in their employ.

Ms Wilhelmina Trout, Volunteer, SADSAWU, called upon those present at the meeting to change their attitudes and the ways in which they referred to domestic workers. She commented that employers often approached the union for information and assistance they should receive from the DoL.

The Chairperson thanked all presenters, and confirmed that the Committee would now compile a report, which it would make available to all stakeholders.

The meeting was adjourned.

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