South Africa

What happens to domestic workers if they get infected at work? unions ask

Pretoria - While the number of Covid-19 infections are soaring by the day in the country, unions are increasingly worried about the fact that more and more domestic workers could become infected in the workplace, yet still do not have protection against the coronavirus under the Compensation for Occupational Injury and disease Act (Coida).

“This is worrisome because as the number of infections are rising, employers are more and more at risk. They are not immune to the virus and chances are good that their domestic workers could also become infected,” said Pinky Mashiane, president of United Domestic Workers of South Africa (Udwosa).

She questioned who would take responsibility when a domestic worker did fall ill due to Covid-19, given the fact that they are not yet lawfully covered under the act.

Mashiane’s organisation, as well as the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, together with other informal workers organisations, have launched an online petition for all South Africans to sign.

The petition seeks to draw the attention of government, particularly the office of the labour minister, to urgently address all aspects regarding the recognition of domestic workers as full employees and who deserve protection under Coida.

The Department of Labour issued a notice in March in which it included compensation for Covid-19 to those who could prove that they had contracted it at work. But the notice excluded domestic workers.

The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, last year ruled the exclusion of domestic workers from protection under Coida, as unconstitutional.

Shortly afterwards, a proposed draft amendment bill, seeking to extend coverage to domestic workers under Coida, was debated.

However, this bill has not yet been taken through the legislative process. The unions said that while the legislative and judicial processes take their course, the Covid-19 pandemic is exploding.

The continued exclusion of domestic workers from compensation under Coida left them vulnerable to the pandemic.

“While other workers have been afforded a safety net, domestic workers are left to fend for themselves. This, while their risk to be infected in private households is no less than that of other workers,” Mashiane said.

The unions feel that the exclusion of domestic workers from claiming compensation has always been irrational and discriminatory.

They say as the pandemic continues and the infections soar, it is now even more important that domestic workers are safeguarded under the act.

“Their situation is exacerbated by the current crisis, and their immediate inclusion is critical,” Mashiane said.

The petition seeks to address that issue that it is now even more important than ever that domestic workers receive the compensation protection that it offers.

The unions are urging the government to finalise the legislative process of amending the act so that it includes domestic workers who work in private households.

Pretoria News

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