Independent Online, 07 November 2002, Testing maids for Aids 'inhumane and illegal'

The labour department will take the strongest possible action against employers who tested domestic workers for HIV/Aids and drove them away if they tested positive, Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana said on Wednesday.

Mdladlana described such actions as "inhumane and unfair".

The Labour Department has started readying its inspectors to force employers of domestic workers to comply with new legislation, which came into effect on November 1, to improve the working conditions of
South Africa's lowest-paid sector.

The minister said employers had to adhere to the minimum wage for domestic workers.

"The minimum wage is the absolute minimum that an employer can legally pay a domestic worker. However, if an employer is paying more than the minimum there is no way that he or she can use the minimum wage as an excuse to reduce wages," Mdladlana said.

A reduction of wages would be an unfair labour practice for which the domestic worker could take the employer to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration.

"The domestic worker sectoral determination also prescribes that employers must increase domestic workers' wages by at least eight percent on an annual basis. This applies to both those employers who are paying a minimum wage and those who are paying more."

The minimum wage is calculated on an hourly basis to offer as much flexibility as possible. The wage for Area A, which consists mainly of urban areas, is R4,51 an hour for workers who work 27 hours a week or less, or R4,10 for those who work more.

In rural areas, the minimum is R3,33 for those who work more than 27 hours, while workers who work 27 or less are entitled to R3,66.

"The department is fully committed to enforcing the domestic worker sectoral determination and there are no exemptions," the minister said.

"The enforcement of the sectoral determination presents unique challenges and calls on domestic workers to help with the enforcement of this law and report any transgressions to the Department of Labour."

Mdladlana acknowledged that monitoring compliance with the minimum wage determination would be difficult.

Among other things, the domestic worker sectoral determination, which he unveiled in August, introduces a minimum wage for domestics and employers are compelled to comply with rules governing pay slips, employer-employee agreements, working hours and leave.

Turning to complaints by some employers that they could not afford minimum wages, Mdladlana said the provisions for an hourly rate of pay were important in this regard.

Employers had to "buy" the services of the worker at the hourly rate for as many hours a month as they could afford.

He also reiterated that unemployment insurance for domestic workers was non-negotiable, and the only outstanding matter in this regard was the way in which contributions would be collected.

The department was working on this, and an announcement could be expected soon, Mdladlana said.