From 17-19 July 2023, SERI participated in a Domestic Worker Litigation Exchange organised by Solidarity Center in Rosebank, Johannesburg. The Exchange was organised to introduce South African public interest legal organisations to human rights lawyers from Ethiopia, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe, who want to bring impact litigation on domestic worker rights in their respective countries. The exchange provided an opportunity for the lawyers to engage with South African public interest legal organisations and learn about key cases from South Africa and the region. The exchange provided an opportunity to discuss legal approaches, strategies, arguments that have worked and might be successfully imported to other contexts; and correspondingly, strategies that did not work, and should be avoided.
SERI’s contribution to the exchange was a reflection on the Mahlangu v Minister of Labour matter. SERI gave a presentation on the interweaving of the strategies of litigation, research and advocacy in Mahlangu. The presentation started with insights of the advocacy and organising by domestic worker unions for inclusion in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), by Eunice Dhladhla, Assistant secretary general of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU). Pinky Mashiane, president of United Domestic Workers of South Africa provided a narrative of the story of the Mahlangu family and their struggle for justice. SER's presentation highlighted the importance of the use of advocacy and research as an accompaniment to litigation, and revealed the challenges regarding the implementation of the Mahlangu judgment.
Chriscy Blauws of Women’s Legal Centre presented on their amicus intervention in the case of Mahlangu. She spoke about the importance of using an intersectional and feminist lens in litigation to achieve feminist jurisprudence that places the lived reality of black women at the forefront and to achieve substantive equality. She highlighted that the exclusion of domestic workers from COIDA discriminated against black women and violated a number of their constitutional rights as contained in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, namely their rights to equality, dignity and social security. These exclusions reinforced historical and apartheid practices and is contradictory to the purpose and spirit of the Constitution. To round off the presentations on the Mahlangu judgment, the litigation exchange greatly benefitted from a presentation by Judge Margret Victor, who wrote the majority judgment in Mahlangu, who highlighted domestic workers’ right to equality and dignity, the importance of applying an intersectional lens and South Africa’s international and regional obligations affecting the case.
The 3-day programme included robust conversations on several themes, including, domestic work and the platform economy, feminist legal methods, the use of international and regional human rights instruments in litigation, litigation on gender based violence and harassment at work. Organisations involved in the exchange included SERI, Women’s Legal Centre, Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa, University of Johannesburg, CENTROW, Institute for Economic Justice, International Commission of Jurists, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Lawyers for Human Rights, Southern Africa Litigation Center, and Amnesty International. Several academic experts and advocates also contributed to the programme.