Court ruling in favour of all domestic workers

Constitutional Court is seen at Constitutional Hill Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

The Constitutional Court has ruled that domestic workers, which include gardeners, people employed as drivers in private households, and those who take care of children, the aged, frail or disabled in private households, will now be covered for claims under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA).

Claims can be made for damages for work-related injuries, illnesses and death.

“The Constitutional Court ruling on Thursday November 19, declaring provisions of the act to be unconstitutional, ruled that the order will apply retrospectively to April 27 1994, allowing domestic workers previously injured and their families and dependents to lodge claims,” said labour specialist, Bernard Reisner, of Cape Labour and Industrial Consultants, in Gardens.

“Sadly, domestic work as a profession is undervalued and unrecognised, even though they play a central role in our society.”

The case had its genesis in March 2020 when Sylvia Mahlangu, the daughter and sole dependent of Maria Mahlangu who drowned in her employer’s swimming pool, launched an application in Pretoria.

It was alleged that Maria, who was partially blind, was washing windows next to the pool when she slipped on the stepladder and fell into the unfenced pool. She could not swim and drowned. Her body was discovered hours later by her employer.

Sylvia Mahlangu was left financially devastated. She approached the Department of Labour to claim compensation but was turned away.

“With the assistance of the South Africa Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, she approached the Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI), which launched an application in the North Gauteng High Court, arguing that the specific exclusion of domestic workers in COIDA was unconstitutional in that it offended rights to equality and was a violation of the human right of dignity,” Mr Reisner said.

“The battle to include domestic workers in COIDA has been ongoing for years,” he said.