Who sould be getting minimum wages?

South Africa - The introduction of a sectoral minimum wage for domestic workers

In South Africa, the minimum wage for domestic workers was one of a large range of reforms that were undertaken in the years following the transition from Apartheid to democracy in 1994. There are between 780’000 to more than a million domestic workers in the country, mostly African and coloured women.

The process of setting a minimum wage began seriously in 1999, five years after the first democratic elections which saw the end of the Apartheid era. The minimum wage came into effect towards the end of 2002, a little more than eight years after the first democratic election. The minimum wage for domestic workers was the result of a process that included a campaign from trade unions, an investigation into the wages and conditions of work of domestic workers, as well as a series of workshops and public hearings.

The introduction of a minimum wage and other protections for domestic workers can be considered one of the success stories of post-1994 South Africa. It was an important step in recognising domestic workers as workers with rights –a change from “servant” to “worker”. It has also been described as a part of a process of “de-slaving” and reasserting the dignity of domestic work. Previously, domestic work was perhaps the worst manifestation of exploitation of black women.

There is, however, still much “unfinished business”, as domestic workers still have one of the lowest minimum wages of all workers in South Africa, and compliance remains a challenge.

Source: Debbie Budlender, 2016. “The Introduction of a minimum wage for domestic workers in South Africa”, ILO Working Paper, Geneva.