Daily grind

Domestic workers struggle to make ends meet

19 August 2019 | Labour

Even though most of Namibia's more than 72 000 domestic workers earn above the minimum N$1 502 a month, close to 80% of them say they struggle to keep their families' heads above water, due to the high cost of living.

This includes those working multiple jobs and longer hours, in an effort to add money to their near-empty purses.

They opened up to researchers in a just-published study, saying they are often unable to make ends meet.

The findings are contained in the study titled 'When the minimum wage is not taking the worker home', which was commissioned by the Labour Resource and Research Institute Namibia (LaRRI) and launched last week.

The study found that most of the domestic workers surveyed indicated they spend as much as, or more than their monthly earnings.

It found that more than 76.3% of the 203 participants (155 domestic workers), indicated that their wages are not adequate as “it does not cover their expenses”.

Some of the domestic workers stressed that they “try to have as many jobs as possible, but while they work longer hours and for multiple employers, they are still not able to make ends meet”.

Less than 18% of the domestic workers (35) said their wages are adequate to cover the cost of basic food and non-food items per month. The 2017 wage order decreed a minimum of N$1 502.05 per month salary or N$346.89 per week, N$69.37 per day and N$8.67 per hour. Part-time domestic workers must earn a minimum of N$43.35 per day if they work five hours.

Too little

Of the 203 domestic workers surveyed, more than 74.4% or 151 said their pay was N$3 000 or less per month, albeit that overall, 122 (60%) of the respondents earned above the minimum N$1 502 monthly pay.

Only 20 (9.9%) of the domestic workers said they took home above N$3 000 each month.

The report concluded that the finding that the majority of domestic workers earned above the minimum wage could be explained “by the fact that most were in employment for a number of years, and were based in Windhoek where knowledge of the minimum wage is relatively high”.

Moreover, “most of them work for more than one employer”.

Fifty-eight of participants (28.6%) earned between N$1 501 and N$2 000 each month, with fewer (49 or 24.1%) indicating they earned between N$2 001 and N$3 000 on a monthly basis.

A total of 70 domestic workers said they earned less than N$1502 each month - 44 or 21.7% - said they took home between N$1 000 and N$1 500 each month, and 26 said their earnings ranged between N$600 and N$1 000 each month.

Not realistic

The report says the study “confirms the constant argument that wage levels for domestic workers in Namibia are not in tandem with increases in the cost of living in the country”.

Close to 42% of the domestic workers surveyed for the study suggested that an amount between N$2 301 and N$3 300 will be more appropriate as a minimum wage.

A smaller group, representing 22% of the respondents, suggested a monthly minimum wage ranging between N$3 301 and N$4 300 for the sector.

Nevertheless, “some respondents indicated that the current minimum wage is ideal for someone entering the labour market for the first time”.

The main objective of the study was to provide an overview and explanation of the impact of the minimum wage order on the Namibian domestic work sector, which is the fourth largest source of employment in the country.

It is estimated the sector employs a total workforce of 72 184 workers, approximately 10% of the employed labour force in Namibia.

The report notes that domestic work occupies a significant proportion of the labour force in Namibia and their numbers “are almost equal, if not more than the number of public servants”.

The sector furthermore is a critical source of employment for women. According to the 2018 labour force survey, 51 744 of the 72 184 domestic workers are women.

Of the 203 study participants, 171 (84%) were female, while 32 (16%) were male domestic workers.