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Domestic workers can claim compensation says High Court

South African domestic workers could soon be able to claim money from the Compensation Fund if they are injured or contract a disease at their place of work. Their families will also be able to claim if they die due to work-related injuries or illnesses.

This following a landmark case in the Gauteng High Court this week, where Sylvia Mahlangu – daughter and sole dependent of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who died at her employer’s home –  won in a case against the department of labour. Mahlangu was claiming compensation for her death.

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) expressly excluded domestic workers employed in private homes from the definition of “employee”, effectively cutting domestic workers off from claiming from the Compensation Fund. All other employees, or their dependents, can claim from the fund when sustaining occupation injuries, illnesses or death.

The High Court found fault, declaring that it was unconstitutional for domestic workers to be excluded as “employees”.

This court ruling now opens the door for the other labour laws offering protection to domestic workers, one of which is the Occupational Health & Safety Act, 1993. A household employing a domestic worker needs to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment to domestic employees, and this would include performing a risk assessment and training the domestic worker in how to prevent injury and illness when using household appliances and chemicals.