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Maternity leave: domestic workers are marginalised

by Zahid Jadwat

Domestic workers are often marginalised when it comes to maternity leave due to a number of issues, ranging from a lack of awareness to bureaucratic delays.

This is according to Katie Pereira-Kotze, a PhD in Public Health candidate at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), who discussed these challenges in an interview on Salaamedia.

Although domestic workers make up 12% of the female labour force in South Africa, their plight needs to be taken more seriously. She said employers, agencies and the Department of Employment and Labour need to play their part in empowering domestic workers who require leave after childbirth.

“The Department of Employment and Labour has a big role to play here. Some of the research that I’ve been doing has unveiled some of the inefficiencies, challenges and barriers in all government departments. There are delays in certain processes and there’s definitely a lot that could be done to improve how a system and a scheme like the UIF works,” she said.


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Existing legislation and provisions for domestic workers

According to Kotze, existing legislation in South Africa makes provisions for female workers in the country. However, domestic workers in particular often face challenges despite the legislation making provisions.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates four months’ leave from the time of childbirth. However, it does not oblige employers to pay staff during this period. This is where the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is supposed to assist employees, but domestic workers are often marginalised in this regard.

Kotze highlighted several prominent challenges that occur with regards to UIF claims. She said bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of awareness are key issues.

“There are a number of challenges that the employers and employees face with the UIF,” she said. “Firstly, the domestic worker’s employer needs to actually register the domestic worker – make the contributions – and many employers that I’ve spoken to really struggle with that and say that it takes quite a lot of time,” she said.

She said many employers of domestic workers do not even consider themselves to be employers, thus they are often not clued up with labour laws.

Furthermore, she said, delays on the part of UIF often mean that domestic workers receive funds only after the period of maternity leave.

“Many women who claim from the UIF experience delays in getting their payments and so many only receive their claims months after they’ve delivered their baby and by that time, they’ve run out of money [or] they’ve gone back to work,” she said.


As such, domestic workers are often forced to bare the brunt of marginalisation, despite the law making provisions for maternity leave.

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