Victory for domestic workers in the Constitutional Court

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has welcomed the Constitutional Court judgment that has favoured the compensation of domestic workers.

On Thursday, the Constitutional Court declared the exclusion of domestic workers employed in private households from Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases (COIDA) unconstitutional.

“This means that, for the first time, persons employed in private households will be able to apply for compensation when injured on duty or when they contract a disease in the course of their employment,” the CGE explained.

Meanwhile, the dependants of domestic employees will also qualify to claim should their breadwinner sustain a fatal accident at work.

“This order will apply retrospectively, with the result that those who suffered claims prior to this order will also qualify to apply for compensation,” the commission explained.

A Mpumalanga woman, Sylvia Mahlangu, is at the heart of the landmark ruling. Her domestic mother Maria Mahlangu drowned on duty eight years ago.

This, after Mahlangu approached the Department of Labour to enquire about compensation for her mother’s death was informed she could neither get compensation under COIDA nor unemployment insurance benefits for her loss, which would ordinarily be covered by COIDA.

The judgment found that the exclusion was discriminatory and infringed on domestic employees’ rights to dignity, equality and social security.

The CGE said it entrenches the “very system of racialised and gendered poverty that the Constitution seeks to undo”.

Norton Rose Fulbright, together with advocates Emma Webber and Lerato Phasha, represented CGE, “which intervened in the matter as amicus curiae in order to, inter alia, highlight to the court the devastating impact that the exclusion has on black women in South Africa”.

“The majority judgment noted the CGE’s tireless efforts in advancing the rights of women,” the CGE added.

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