On 24 November 2021, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation co-hosted a dialogue entitled, “One Year after Mahlangu: Taking Stock of Domestic Work in South Africa”. The event was held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, where approximately 30 people attended the event physically. An additional 72 000 people live-streamed the event. The aim of the event was to create a dialogue between government, civil society organisations representing domestic workers and employers, and members of the public about key issues in the domestic work sector on the first anniversary of the Mahlangu judgment, which was on 19 November 2021.
The event consisted of opening remarks by Nelson Mandela Foundation’s CEO Sello Hatang and SERI’s executive director Nomzamo Zondo, a keynote address by Eunice Dhladhla of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) followed by a panel discussion.
In a heartfelt reflection on his own mother’s experiences as a domestic worker, Sello Hatang spoke about the difficulties, racial prejudice and demeaning working conditions domestic workers experienced during apartheid, and explained that unfortunately for many domestic workers in post-Apartheid South Africa, this continues to be the case.
Nomzamo Zondo spoke about the case Mahlangu v Minister of Labour matter and the 2020 Constitutional Court judgment. Nomzamo argued that that as powerful as the Mahlangu judgment is, a lot of work is needed to ensure that domestic workers are covered and those who experienced injury after 1994 are compensated. Using the example of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the low levels of compliance by domestic employers, Nomzamo stated that, “the experience of the domestic work sector is proof that progressive laws alone do not change people’s conditions or behaviour”.
Mam'Eunice Dhladhla, assistant general secretary of South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU),delivered the keynote address in which she shared the historical context of domestic workers organising in South Africa. Mam'Euniece also highlighted the contemporary issues and challenges affecting domestic workers including the difficulties of organising domestic workers; long working hours without adequate rest; unequal power relations between employers and domestic workers; and the issue of widespread non-compliance from employers.
The panel discussion which followed the keynote address was facilitated by SERI researcher Kelebogile Khunou and included panellists Linda Burnham, former research director at National Domestic Workers Alliance in the United States; Albert van der Merwe, assistant general secretary at the National Employers’ Labour Association (NELA); Nicolette Naylor, international program director, gender, racial, and ethnic justice at the Ford Foundation and Vuyo Mafata, Compensation Commissioner.
The panelists continued the discussion on the current state of domestic work and raised the following issues:
- Domestic work is an undervalued sector; domestic workers are a dispersed and disaggregated workforce largely excluded from the enjoyment of labour laws;
- The intersecting racial, class, gender and citizenship inequalities experienced by domestic workers during apartheid persist and domestic workers remain one of the most vulnerable occupational groups;
- Employers of domestic workers need to be included in dialogues, and collaboration between associations for employers and domestic worker unions and organisations needs to be strengthened;
- There is a need for an “all of society” approach with domestic workers at the forefront to tackle issues in the sector.
The panelists offered the following closing remarks about the short and medium-term goals that stakeholders in the sector should prioritise:
- In the short-term, public awareness needs to be raised on domestic workers inclusion in COIDA, employers need to register their employees and claims processed;
- Research and data-collection on the domestic work sector needs to be prioritised;
- Consideration for the formation of a bargaining council for employers and domestic workers organisations as provided for in the Labour Relations Act;
- Collaboration between the key stakeholders needs to be sustained;
- South Africa can take a leadership role in building global solidarity around issues in the sector;
- The need for the media to change the narrative on domestic work and to change the hearts and minds of the public.
In a follow-up to the dialogue, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted an online discussion on Twitter Spaces about domestic worker rights and the Constitution. The discussion took place on 8 December 2021. SERI's Kelebogile Khunou and Asenati Tukela joined Lebogang Mokgoroane and Jade Louella Naidoo. Asenati discussed aspects of the Mahlangu judgment while Kelebogile reflected on the wider context of domestic work in South Africa. The discussion was attended by approximately 100 Twitter users.
- Watch the Mahlangu event here.
- Read more about the Mahlangu case here.
- Download the employers guide here.
- Read the press statement on the anniversary of the Mahlangu judgment here.