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[TRIBUTE] Domestic workers, activists and SERI community mourn the passing of domestic worker leader Myrtle Witbooi (18 January 2023).

Myrtle Witbooi

Photo: ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation)


The South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) and SERI mourn the passing of Myrtle Witbooi (31 August 1947- 16 January 2023), General Secretary of SADSAWU and Chair of the International Domestic Workers' Federation (IDWF). 

Myrtle's tireless efforts advocating for the rights of domestic workers span several decades, beginning in the 1960s when she herself was a domestic worker in Cape Town. Myrtle went on to co-found South African Domestic Workers Union in 1986, which called for fair labour standards for domestic workers such as living wages, unemployment insurance, workman's compensation, maternity benefits and sick pay.  

In recent years SADSAWU under Myrtle's leadership, successfully advocated for the inclusion of domestic workers in the Unemployment Insurance Act 63 of 2001 in 2003, and in 2020 played a pivotal role in the inclusion of domestic workers in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993, having taken on the role of second applicant in the Mahlangu v Minister of Labour matter. On the international stage, SADSAWU representatives participated in discussions on the International Labour Organization (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention (Convention 189) and subsequently engaged the South African government on its ratification. 

Myrtle's passing is a major loss to her family, friends, the South African trade union movement and the global movement of domestic workers.