By Nomali Cele
Why Domestic Workers’ Rights Matter
Not many people will end up running their own businesses. The fact is that not all of us have the personality or temperament for business, which goes counter to the most common proposed solution to unemployment: entrepreneurship. It’s just not going to happen. And that doesn’t mean that those who choose to pursue employment are somehow less ambitious than their business-owning counterparts. But most people of a certain income bracket will be employers.
It’s still workers’ month and we are looking at Afropolitans as employers, specifically, Afropolitans who employ people in their homes. Largely, the stories are not shared because the employer has all the power.
The reasons people get help in their homes differ. Some are working hours that don’t allow them to do the housework, others have children, which makes supplementing the number of available caregivers to the child imperative. We live in a climate where gratitude is a requirement of the underemployed and underpaid. It’s not hard to imagine that people’s moral obligations eventually melt away and they expect one person to do the job of three people with one meagre salary. A nanny and housekeeper and a cook and a chaufer…the list goes on.
Aside from the shared “Ausi” horror stories, there is an “open secret” of abuse and mistreatment in the domestic workspace. These stories go unshared or without the attention they need because, in most cases, the abusers have all the power. You are likely to share stories about your housekeeper or nanny returning from December holidays well into the new year when you had agreed on her being back in the first week than it is to share your story of unlearning unfair work practices and negotiating fair working hours and compensation.
In 2016, ENCA’s “Check Point” reported that 10% of all complaints received by the CCMA were from domestic workers reporting labour law violations. As we ask big questions of national labour, it’s important that Afropolitans be introspective regarding your own behaviours and values as employers. Do you give “Ausi” fair time off and overtime pay when she’s spent her workday spring cleaning (curtains, blankets, windows etc) on top of her regular workload?
The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is an expectation in South Africa. This protects some of people’s earning should they fun themselves out of work or otherwise unable to work. UIF also pays out during maternity leave.
Domestic workers’ rights include time off. This means paid leave, weekends off and an agreed upon paid sick leave or family responsibility leave. When you are on your December vacation, so too should your domestic staff.
If people who work for you in your home feel that they can’t can’t have a family as it will put their jobs in jeopardy, that’s something to worry about. By law, Domestic workers’ rights include a four-month maternity option. You are not obligated to pay the worker while they’re away on maternity leave but reassuring them that their job is safe goes a long way.
UIF will then pay out while the employee is on maternity leave, should they decide to return to work before the four months of their leave is finished, the employee is within their rights. All they have to do is provide a doctor’s certificate but they can’t return to work before six weeks have passed. Of course, all the terms of their maternity leave must be ironed out before they go away.
Much like minimum wage, these domestic workers’ rights (and so many more not mentioned here) are the least you can do as an employer. You can choose to empower and upskill your domestic worker. If their work is primarily childcare then things such as CPR, driving and other child development courses will work to your advantage as much as it will boost their CV.
Domestic workers’ rights are not merely about sentimentality, they are about doing the right thing.