One of the biggest employment sectors in the country is that of domestic workers. There is specific minimum wage legislation relating to domestic workers, and as is to be expected, domestic workers have the same rights as their fellow workers in more formal sectors.
Domestic work differs from more formal employments sectors by virtue of the fact that the employment relationship takes place in private residences. This quite clearly already places great importance on issues of trust and honesty. Many domestic employment relationships last for many years, but not all do so.
Like any other employment relationship, the CCMA takes a dim view of unfair dismissal in the domestic sector. This was the case in the arbitration hearing between Sindisiwe Victoria Nala v Fiona Huma-Siripa (Case Number: GAJB5275-17).
In this case, the employee was a so-called live-in domestic worker, who had been employed by the employer since 7 January 2016, prior to the termination of the employment relationship on 8 March 2017.
According to the employer, the employee would, from time to time, “get a few days off, and then travel to the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Empangeni”. On one such occasion, the employee took one of her monthly trips to visit her family in Empangeni, however she failed to return to work on the agreed date.
The employer then phoned the employee, but her phone was off, after which she sent her a short message (sms), and followed this up with a further sms the following day. The security guards at the access gate of the complex in which the employer reside, called to confirm that the employee was at the gate at 4pm, the day after she had agreed to return to work. The employer then took the employee’s belongings to the gate, confirming “Siyabonga, thank you”, we no longer wanted her.
According to the domestic worker, she did indeed return from visiting her family in Empangeni, in Kwa Zulu Natal, on the day after she had agreed to do so, but she had lost her mobile phone, and could therefore not communicate with the employer.
She continued that when she reported to the entrance gate of her employer, the husband of the household arrived at the gate and instructed her to get into his car, after which he drove her to the local Shoprite Centre. At the shopping Centre, he informed her that her belongings were in the boot, and that “it was over with them” and they no longer needed her services.
The employee continued that “she was dismissed in a callous manner”.
The Commissioner agreed. The arbitration award began by noting that the employee “was not granted an opportunity to state her case”. It continued that what’s more “there was no consultative meeting at all”. To make matters worse, the employee “was not charged with misconduct or found guilty of any misconduct”. The dismissal was held to have been callous and demeaning to the employee’s personhood. Furthermore, the dismissal was without a valid and legitimate reason.
The procedurally and substantively unfair dismissal warranted six months compensation to the employee in the eyes of the Commissioner.
Sectoral determination 7: The Domestic Worker Sector, makes provision for minimum wages and conditions of service in this sector, including all forms of leave, and notice periods.
It is also important to remember that any domestic worker, or indeed any person for that matter, that works for in excess of twenty-four hour per month, must be registered with the Department of Labour for the unemployment insurance fund.