According to Stats SA, some 900 000 South Africans are employed as domestic workers across the country.

By Aisha Pandor

Looking to get a clearer picture on who these almost one million South Africans are, being an operator in the domestic work industry, SweepSouth decided to put together a report  based on a survey of more than 1 300 domestic workers, in order to get an in-depth look at the lived financial reality and conditions of domestic workers in South Africa.

One of the most welcome findings in the report was that the majority of domestic workers reported earning above minimum wage for the industry. However, this fact can obscure other worrying findings.

Looking at these findings, here are a few tips to bear in mind to ensure that the workplace you create, as a domestic worker employer, is both fair and dignified.

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Ensure that all legal obligations are followed

61% of respondents to the survey reported not receiving pay slips, and 62% reported not being registered with UIF. An additional 27% said they don’t know if they are registered with UIF.

With the focus placed on changes to minimum wage in December of last year, it is understandable why some may believe that adhering to these requirements is all they need to do to be in line with the law, but there is more.

Registering a domestic worker you employ with UIF and providing them with payslips (monthly or weekly) are also legal requirements.

Have a compassionate leave policy

The report also found that 85% of respondents do not receive paid leave. This also contravenes legal requirements.

The leave entitlement for a fully employed domestic worker is 21 days of paid leave per year

The leave entitlement for a fully employed domestic worker is 21 days of paid leave per year.

While the law does allow for negotiation about when leave may be taken, generally if a domestic worker has worked for four months, they may take a week’s leave, or save it up to take all three weeks at once.

But for your home to be a dignified workplace, you should be doing more. From time to time, all of us have family responsibilities. 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.

Give the same kind of breathing room you’d expect at your own place of employment.

Have an employment contract

When asked about having employment contracts, 61% of domestic workers responding said they did have one, with 11% saying they didn’t know whether they had one.

Of all the legal requirements employers are not following, this one is perhaps the most important. Not only is an employment contract a legal requirement, but it protects you as an employer of domestic workers as employees.

The only way to clarify what each party can expect, and have to contribute to the relationship, is by having an employment contract in place. Such contracts set out the duties, hours, place of work, wages, overtime, leave and termination of services for a clear understanding of the terms of employment.

The survey found that 41% of domestic workers are spending more than R500 on transport to and from work per month

Where possible, help with transport

The survey found that 41% of domestic workers are spending more than R500 on transport to and from work per month. R500 may seem like a small amount to many, but when you’re earning between R2001 and R3000 (22% of respondents), between R1001 and R2000 (21% of respondents), and between R3001 and R4000 (20% of respondents), that is a large chunk of your income.

Helping out can be as simple as giving your domestic worker a lift to the nearest public transportation hub so that they can get home sooner to have quality time with their families.

Pay fairly

While the report does find that the majority of domestic workers are earning the minimum wage, the report also shows us that 84% of domestic workers were the sole breadwinners in their households,
with 70% being single mothers supporting, on average, three dependants.

When you consider that, a minimum wage of R2 699 per month for a domestic worker is not a living wage. This was underscored in the report when it found that average expenses for domestic workers came to R3 147 per month.

Considering these findings, paying domestic workers minimum wage arguably traps them in a cycle of poverty.

To be compassionate, employers should aim to create a fair and dignified workplace for the domestic workers we employ. This is something we should be striving towards, in order to help break the negative cycle by paying as fairly as we possibly can.

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