A contentious topic at the moment is whether employers are required to, or should pay their domestic workers during lockdown, especially considering the latest extension until the end of April.

‘No work – No pay’ seems to be regarded, in general, as an acceptable practice but should the nature of legality outweigh that of morality or ethics?

These unexpectedly bizarre times creates a novel demand on humanity to take action. Now, more than ever, our neighbourhoods, communities and families need to become a cohesive force of support for each other and those who are suffering most from the pitfalls of lockdown.

Under normal circumstances, wages paid to domestic helpers would have fallen under the budget of ‘monthly expenses’. Most employers expect the alternative option; that their domestic workers should claim from UIF while they are not working. This, too, presents numerous challenges as the Department of Labour and subsequent UIF mechanisms have become inundated with applications from large volume workforces, despite already being seen as a flawed system, and many are left penniless in the interim wait or forced to break certain lockdown rules.

Additionally, the misconception of who is deemed a permanent employee vs a casual one has resulted in many employers never having registered their domestics with the Department of Labour for UIF. It is a legal requirement to register any domestic worker who works more than 24 hours per month for UIF. Thus, should your domestic attempt to now claim UIF and you have not been compliant, you could be held responsible for paying any money owed to the DEL (Department of Employment and Labour) and your employee.

Bearing this unusual time in mind, “You need to look at things from a morality point of view and come up with a creative plan, such as working back some of the paid time in the future and using paid annual leave” suggests Kevin Marlow, Owner of Vision Consulting, who believes you need to offer some form of financial aid to your employees during lockdown.

Legal consultant, Kim Van Kets, shares her perspective: “From a legal perspective (under normal circumstances), an employer is permitted to implement no work no pay”. However, she also believes that it’s important to separate law from morality in the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19. From a moral perspective, she finds it unacceptable to withhold wages from a domestic worker who lives from hand to mouth regardless and through no fault of their own.

From a psychological perspective, Maslow describes our primary human need as physiological. This implies that we are innately driven to find food, water and shelter in order to survive. The global impact of COVID-19 now places pressure on the capacity to fulfil these basic needs, instinctively driving us into survival mode. The financially-able may continue to pay their employees with the view that it is morally wrong not to do so, while those losing incomes will feel that they simply cannot afford to pay their domestics. The point being, according to Kirstin Liss, Director of The ODC; that having a moral compass will always be biased and personal, with a need to justify our actions whichever perspective it is viewed from. She encourages humility during this time.

Should our fight to meet our own basic needs outweigh the importance of other principles in life? Say, to display humility and empathy towards others, and to be generous in any way we are able? We are all going to be impacted by the lockdown in one way or another. Let us, instead, endeavour on using individual and combined resources to show kindness and compassion for those who are in less fortunate circumstances. Let us work at generating a warmth of social inclusion in spite of our current isolated status.