Annual Forum Papers

Have Minimum Wages Benefited South Africa's Domestic Service Workers?

  • Year: 2004
  • Author(s): Tom Hertz
  • Countries and Regions: South Africa

In September of 2002 South Africa's roughly one million domestic workers - about 840,000 predominantly African and Coloured women who work as housekeepers, cooks and nannies, and another 180,000 men who work primarily as gardeners - were granted formal labor market protection, including the right to a written contract with their employers, the right to paid leave, to severance pay, and to notice prior to dismissal (Department of Labour, 2002). Employers were also required to register their domestic workers with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and to withhold UIF contributions from their paychecks; (since April of 2003 domestic workers have been entitled to unemployment benefits). In November of 2002, a schedule of minimum wages, including time-and-a-half provisions for overtime work, went into effect. The minima were set above the median hourly wages that prevailed at the time, making this a significant intervention in the domestic worker labor market. This paper attempts to determine if these regulations have had any effect on wages, employment levels, hours of work, and the conditions of employment. I find that the regulations do appear to have raised wages: Average nominal hourly wages for domestic workers in September of 2003 were 23% higher than they had been in September 2002, while for demographically similar workers in other occupations the nominal wage increase was less than 5%. Econometric evidence supports the conclusion that the wage increases were caused by the regulations, since the largest increases are seen in places where the greatest number of workers were initially below the minimum wage.