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:

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.