In March the Department of Employment and Labour set up the COVID-19 Temporary Employer/ Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) to support businesses and employers temporarily closed due to the lockdown and unable to pay workers’ salaries. 

This benefit is only available to employers who are registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and make monthly contributions as required by the Unemployment Insurance Contributions Act 4 of 2002 (Contributions Act). Section 10 of the Contributions Act states that the obligation to register with the UIF lies with an employer. Domestic workers themselves cannot register for UIF.

Yet there is widespread non-compliance amongst employers, especially among those employing casual or precarious workers such as domestic workers and farm labourers. According to a study by Women in Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and the Social Law Project (SLP) at the University of Western Cape, only 20% of domestic workers are registered by their employers under UIF. Further, generalising from Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance’s research which found that only 37% of domestic workers were paid a full salary in April, the majority of domestic workers, many of whom are the sole breadwinners for their families, are left without an income until level 2 of the lockdown. 

SERI requested an opinion on possible legal remedies. These are as follows:

  • In instances where an employer fails to register their worker, section 45 of the UI Act provides, “The Commissioner may deem a person to be a contributor for purposes of this Act if it appears that the person should have received benefits in terms of this Act but, because of circumstances beyond the control of that person, is not entitled to benefits.” If domestic workers are deemed to be contributors, they would be entitled to benefit under the C19 TERS. 
  • Section 69 of the UI Act provides, “The Minister may, after receipt of an application in a prescribed form and with the concurrence of the Unemployment Fund Board, by notice in the Gazette, declare that as from a date specified in the notice any specified class of persons, or any person employed in any specified business or section of a business or in any specified area, must be regarded as contributors for purposes of this Act.”
  • Read together, Sections 45 and 69 of the UI Act enable the Minister, UIF Commissioner and the UIF Board to deem domestic workers, or any other group of workers, as individuals or as a class of persons, contributors for the purposes of the UIF, allowing them access to much needed relief from TERS. 
  • The legislation empowers the Minister to deem domestic workers contributors (as a class of person) for the purposes of C19 TERS.
  • The Department is empowered to create a mechanism for domestic workers to access the TERS Fund directly from the Department, as individuals, or collectively through their unions.

On Thursday, 7 May 2020, the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union (SADSAWU), represented by SERI, made recommendations to the National Command Council, the Minister of Employment and Labour and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Commissioner seeking a declaration of domestic workers as UIF contributors so that they can access income protection during the state of disaster. 

  • Read the full letter and recommendations here
  • Download the press statement here.