(By Aisha Pandor, CEO SweepSouth)
Across South Africa, there are millions of homes that depend on domestic workers to stay clean and organised.
In fact, there are more than a million domestic workers in South Africa, many of them the sole breadwinners in their own families.
Quite aside from the fact that the work is far from glamorous, many domestic workers live lives that are more challenging than most of us could ever imagine.
There are, however, a few simple practices you can adopt that will help make things significantly better.
7. Provide for family responsibility leave
From time to time, all of us have family responsibilities which might cause us to miss work. Whether it’s a sick child or a death in the family, these things usually happen suddenly, making it difficult to ask for leave in advance.
If you haven’t made provision for family responsibility leave in your domestic worker’s employment contract, why not add it in and give the same kind of breathing room you’d expect at your own place of employment?
These things usually happen suddenly, making it difficult to ask for leave in advance.
6. Be flexible with start/finish times
Many domestic workers live in areas that are a lot more dangerous than middle-class suburbs in South Africa. Those areas tend to be even more dangerous in the dark. You only have to turn on the news to see how much more dangerous they are for women.
It may be useful to have a conversation about whether your domestic worker would feel safer if they changed their working hours during winter. In some parts of the country, this might mean coming in later. In others, it might mean leaving earlier. Either way, it would reduce the time spent travelling through dangerous areas in the dark.
5. Let them bring their kids in
Chances are your domestic worker won’t want to bring her children to your home all the time, just as you wouldn’t want your children running around your office every day.
Let her know that it’s no big thing if she needs to bring her children in from time to time.
There may, however, be times when there are few other options. During school holidays, for example, there may be no one else to look after the children. And even if there is, the area where your domestic worker lives might not always be safe during school holidays.
So, if you haven’t already, just let her know that it’s no big thing if she needs to bring her children in from time to time.
4. Help out with educational/business opportunities
Growing up, most people don’t see themselves cleaning other people’s homes for the rest of their lives. If they’re presented with an opportunity to improve themselves educationally, there are a few simple ways you can help your domestic worker achieve her goals.
Even if you can’t afford to chip in financially, you could assist with online registration and payment. If some of the study materials are online, you could offer up your home WiFi to download them.
And if your domestic worker is getting into business (clothing repair and design, for example), you could also get the word out about her products and services using your personal networks.
3. Give a lift to the nearest public transportation hub
This is related to point number six. If you can give your domestic worker a lift to the nearest public transportation hub, you minimise the danger and harassment she might have to deal with on the way there.
It also means she can get home sooner, giving her more quality time to spend with her family.
2. Ditch the uniform
Let’s face it, domestic worker uniforms are a colonial throwback and completely unnecessary. Your domestic worker should work in whatever she feels most comfortable in.
If she’d like an apron or a smock to stop her own clothes getting dirty, you should provide one. Expecting her to wear a uniform, however, makes you no better than corporates who demand that women wear high heels or dictate what haircuts they can have.
1. Pay fairly
This is probably the most important practice you can implement. If you pay your domestic worker poorly, you’re trapping her in a cycle of poverty where it’s a battle to even put food on the table.
This is a complex issue as many families who don’t have the luxury of dictating their working hours need the assistance of domestic workers, but also aren’t in a financial position to pay what they’d otherwise like to. Nevertheless, the reality is that domestic workers in South Africa are generally paid far too little.
Pay your domestic worker fairly, and you play a small role in helping break that cycle.