Domestic workers can now claim money for injuries after landmark court ruling

Business Insider SA

high court
North Gauteng High Court (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)
  • The Gauteng High Court has ruled that domestic workers should be able to claim money for workplace injuries from the Compensation Fund.
  • Previously they were excluded.
  • This means that their employers will have to register them with the fund, and pay a monthly percentage of their income as a levy. 
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South African domestic workers could soon be able to claim money from the Compensation Fund if they are injured or contract a disease at their place of work. Their families will also be able to claim if they die due to work-related injuries or illnesses.

This following a landmark case in the Gauteng High Court this week, where Sylvia Mahlangu - daughter and sole dependent of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who died at her employer’s home -  won in a case against the department of labour. Mahlangu was claiming compensation for her death. 

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) expressly excluded domestic workers employed in private homes from the definition of "employee", effectively cutting domestic workers off from claiming from the Compensation Fund. All other employees, or their dependents, can claim from the fund when sustaining occupation injuries, illnesses or death. 

The High Court found fault, declaring that it was unconstitutional for domestic workers to be excluded as "employees". 

Last year, the Department of Labour proposed to make amendments to COIDA, which could include domestic employees in the Act.

But this week's case is still significant. After several years of litigation, the high court ruling legitimised the argument in a court of law, according to Kelebogile Khunou, a researcher at the socio-economic rights institute of South Africa (SERI) that represented Mahlangu.

“We also want the matter to be declared retrospectively, in other words that it would be applicable to Sylvia’s case,” said Khunou.

If this declaration goes into effect, then the Department of Labour would need to enforce employers to register domestic workers under COIDA and pay a percentage of their employees’ wages into the fund.

“Next, the High Court declaration will need to be seen by the Constitution Court. We are still waiting for a date to be confirmed,” said Khunou. 

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