13 June 2019
By law, all employees who work 24 hours or more per month are entitled to unemployment insurance. But more than 300,000 domestic workers are not registered, meaning they will not be paid out if they lose their jobs.
Employers are required to register domestic workers with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). The employer and employee must each pay must contribute an amount equal to 1% of the employee’s monthly wage. The employee must pay the same amount.
According to Statistics South Africa, just over one million domestic workers are employed for 24 hours or more per month. About 680,000 were registered with UIF as of 31 March. This means one third of domestic workers who are entitled to unemployment insurance, and who may be entitled to maternity benefits, are not registered.
Workers can only be registered with UIF by their employer, who must fill out the UI-8 and UI-19 forms, and then submit them through the online uFiling system, fax, email, mail, or bring them to a Labour Centre.
Employers often “just give up” once the online system fails, says Myrtle Witbooi, general secretary of the South African Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU). She says many employers have cited problems with the system as the reason they have not registered their domestic workers. Some find they cannot log into the system, and others do not receive the required registration number after filling everything in.
But UIF communications director Makhosonke Buthelezi says since the launch of the system in 2013, “clients have had no problems registering on it.” He says 696 new employers were registered in April, and 972 in May.
“Employers are reluctant to register domestic workers due to general aversion to compliance with the law”, says Buthelezi.
By law, employers who fail to register with the UIF or pay toward the fund can be fined or imprisoned.
Witbooi says the Department of Labour needs to increase oversight over employers of domestic workers to ensure that they are complying with the requirements.
“If employers in South Africa can still get away with not registering domestic workers, they will do it,” Witbooi said.
The union has been trying to convince the Minister of Labour to organise an imbizo with domestic workers to inform them of their rights. Witbooi also said the labour department should produce pamphlets and use media to keep domestic workers informed.
“Much more must be spent on education for domestic workers,” Witbooi says, so that domestic workers can fight more effectively for their rights.
Domestic workers are still not entitled to compensation for work-related injuries or death.
On 23 May, a judge ruled in the Pretoria High Court that the exclusion of domestic workers in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act of 1993 is unconstitutional. But the law has yet to be changed.
Domestic workers also have a lower national minimum wage. When the minimum wage was set at R20 per hour or R3,500 per month in May 2018, the minimum for domestic workers was only R15 per hour. This is because they are seen as more likely to lose their jobs if wages go up rapidly, according to a National Treasury document.
“It’s important for employers to recognise what domestic workers really are,” Witbooi said. “We are a part of the economy.”
GroundUp decided to test the uFiling system because coincidentally one of our staff members needed to register a domestic worker on it.
We first tried an existing user ID for the uFiling system. We had forgotten the password and so requested it to be reset. To cut a long and frustrating story short, that included a call to the UIF website support number, we gave up. We simply couldn’t reset the password. We would constantly be redirected to a screen to create a new password and always get blocked with the same message: “The password entered does not match the password provided. Please retry. Note that the password is case sensitive.”
We tried using Firefox and Chrome - neither worked. (And yes, GroundUp staff know how to reset passwords.)
So we tried registering a new user ID with a passport. But in entering the details we came across a perplexing field: UIF Reference Number. How are you supposed to have this reference before you’ve registered? So we phoned the helpline again. It was 12:34pm on a Monday. The phone was answered immediately and an automated message informed us that no one would be available between 12:45pm and 1:30pm. Then the line went dead.
We tried again at 2:35pm. This time the automated message said no one would be available from 3pm to 3:15pm. And then once more the line went dead.
In response, UIF communications director Makhosonke Buthelezi said clients began to have problems with the uFiling system after it went through an update in April. One of the most common issues was the password reset. Buthelezi said the problems had now been resolved and people “just need to know how to navigate.”
He also said the UIF was trying to improve customer service and increase the number of people available to help clients with their problems. He said he would issue a user guide to address the most common problems with the uFiling system.