Speech by Minister Oliphant at the Decent Work for Domestic Workers Conference, Birchwood Hotel
1 Sep 2011
Minister Angie Motshekga, president of the ANC Women’s league
ILO Director Vic van Vuuren
Deputy General Secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali
Ladies and gentlemen
Firstly let me thank you for the opportunity to address you on Decent Work for Domestic Workers conference.
It may seem like a trite point to some but I believe that it is worth repeating that one of the central tenets that the democratic government was founded on is the recognition of the inherent dignity for all human beings.
This humaneness and humanity enjoins us to do our utmost not only to contribute to the quality of life of our citizens, but also to ensure that the vulnerable in our society are provided with the necessary protection from the ills that afflict them.
That is what defines caring societies and we would like to believe that we are laying the foundation for what will eventually be recognised as a caring society.
This quest to care led the department to classify domestic workers as one of the vulnerable groups of workers in our country. The very nature of the service that domestic workers render is difficult to monitor through the inspectorate.
I am convinced that this was a correct decision because with the isolation that is the characteristic of this job, there is a very real possibility of exploitation in many ways.
We are being asked today at this conference whether as a department responsible for ensuring decent work opportunities, have we done enough to align the outcomes of the ILC (International Labour Conference) with the legal framework of this country or not?
The adoption at the 100th International Labour Conference in June of Convention 189 and its accompanying Recommendation has sparked a global frenzy in the debates on decent work for domestic workers. Luckily, these debates on the plight of domestic workers are not new to us. This issue has been raging in the collective memory of our people for longer than I care to remember.
As far back as 1969 a researcher commented on the progress made with efforts to promote a “just wage” for domestic workers. The figure quoted at that point in time was R40 per month for a full time worker in Cape Town. It concluded that the improvement in the circumstances of domestic workers appeared to be tied to the conscience of the employers and, more important, the state of the economy. Government’s role was not even mentioned.
Thirty five years later and with a changed political scene, this ANC-led government in 2002 spearheaded a caring philosophy in the context of a “better life for all”.
This is the background against which the sectoral determination was promulgated and it recognises the importance of domestic workers that they are an integral part of the economy and that domestic work is not degrading or menial.
It was a bold statement that this government is committed to addressing the plight of the most vulnerable workers which in this case were mainly young black men and women. At the launch of the sectoral determination for domestic workers on the 6th of August 2002 my predecessor said:
“After the 1994 democratic elections, all the people of South Africa and the whole world expected our government to change the lives of the most vulnerable workers, particularly domestic workers who had borne the brunt of systematic discrimination, neglect and marginalisation.
“It concerns me when domestic workers are saying that our new democracy and subsequent laws make no difference to their lives. It is for this very reason that I have persisted in my efforts to address the plight of domestic workers by setting minimum wages and conditions of employment.”
As a committed office bearer of this government and the servant of the people who have entrusted us with their lives, I can therefore proudly stand before you and state without any fear of contradiction that we have not only then delivered on our motto for a “better life for all” but have contributed to this global realisation that domestic workers are deserving of our constant attention and our concerted efforts to establish decent work for them.
Let me further acknowledge the contribution of our social partners, specifically organised labour in realising this commitment when we adopted Convention 189 at the International Labour Conference (ILC).
Through working together, not only was the draft convention modelled on our experiences but together with our social partners we played a critical role in shaping an international standard for domestic workers. We need to pat ourselves on the back.
Although we can easily claim some bragging rights it is important however to recognise that through this process we not only gave substance to the notion of decent work for all, but extended it as an all inclusive agenda also to domestic workers.
In South Africa, we have already achieved significantly against what the Convention and its accompanying Regulation requires legislatively.
We have set conditions of employment which include pronouncing on minimum wages and unemployment insurance cover for domestic workers.
We are currently in the process of studying the feasibility of a provident fund for the sector and in terms of the Skills Legislation, we have seen real benefits accruing to domestic workers. There is still some work that we need to do such as extending the protection under the Compensation for Injuries on Duty Act in consultation with our social partners as well as providing specific protection for migrant domestic workers.
We are not, by any stretch of imagination, saying that we have reached the promised land and everything is perfect.
The skills development initiatives in the sector that we have seen flowing from our efforts in terms of the Skills Development legislation should be a cause for our constant vigilance. These initiatives, well-intended as they may be, do very little in addressing the mobility and career-pathing of domestic workers.
We are also acutely aware that having established a sectoral determination does not necessarily mean that domestic workers will experience the envisioned protection.
It is about how these rights are internalised and how the organs of state respond to violations of these rights. To this end we had spent a sizeable portion of our communication budgets of the last few years not only on creating awareness on the sectoral determination but also on skills development and significantly around UIF protection.
As at the end of July this year 647126 domestic workers are registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund out of a total of 876 000 domestic workers – according to Statistics SA.
The question of enforcement and an appropriately capacitated inspectorate sensitive to the gender dynamic of domestic work remains topical.
Whilst we have done a large amount of work around specialisation and professionalisation of inspectors, domestic work because of its character including its hidden nature provides specific challenges some outside the scope of what inspectors are required to do such as human trafficking. Therefore there remains a need to not only be sensitive to these new demands but also to be able to respond to these challenges effectively and efficiently.
We are currently facing with the possibility that the largest union in the sector is in the process of being deregistered. Coupled with the fact that it is already by virtue of the nature of employment in the sector, very difficult to organise, this poses a serious threat to at least on fundamental tenets of decent work.
Domestic workers, now more than ever, need unions to assist them to collectively discuss and find solutions to the issues facing their sector.
The timing of this conference is not lost to us as this is the month that recognises the bravery of women who in 1956 dramatically broke their silence, protesting against the pass-laws of the apartheid regime.
It is now time for domestic workers to break the silence on their invisibility in society. Organising the sector will contribute towards giving a voice to domestic workers. That is your challenge and we would be more than happy to be of help should we be required to do so. But organising domestic workers is one of the last frontiers for realising the benefits of our hard-fought rights.
I thank you and wish you well in your deliberations.
Issued by: Department of Labour
1 Sep 2011
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