Domestic workers struggle on

No job descriptions and no contracts remain the norm for domestic workers.

20 August 2019 | Local News

Nearly 80% of domestic workers surveyed in a new study have seen little improvement in working conditions since the implementation of a minimum wage and sector-specific job regulations in 2015.

Of the 203 domestic workers surveyed, 162 (79.8%) said they did not observe any changes in their work tasks and only 13 (6.4%) said their working conditions were good, while two domestic workers said they had experienced a lesser workload.

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 report warns that available data makes it clear the minimum stipulated wage for domestic workers does “not constitute a living wage that will ensure a decent standard of living for domestic workers and their families – it is a bare minimum”.

Among several conclusions, the authors of the report state there is a “clear demand for domestic workers in Namibia and the sector shall continue to grow”.

Although a minimum wage has been set for the sector, “its enforcement remains weak” and most domestic workers do not know about it.

The research found that most domestic workers, 77% of those who participated, do not have a signed employment contract.

“Written contracts of employment remain a pipe dream for many,” the authors state.

They add that an absence of job descriptions is the norm in a sector which employs more than 72 100 workers, an estimated 10% of Namibia's workforce.



Mixed

The study further highlights that awareness of the minimum wage, and what it means, was mixed among both employees and employers.

Based on the results, researchers further concluded that non-compliance with the minimum wage order is a concern and that misconceptions about the minimum wage are rife among workers and employers alike.

The study concluded that many domestic workers and their employers still believe that the minimum wage means a maximum wage, and that “no employer should pay above that amount no matter how long an employee has been in employment”.

As a result, some domestic workers experienced a pay cut to align with the minimum wage.

The 2017 revised minimum wage order decreed a minimum monthly salary of N$1 502.05, or weekly pay of N$346.89, or N$69.37 per day or N$8.67 per hour.

Part-time domestic workers must earn a minimum of N$43.35 per day if they work five hours.

Just over half of the respondents, 104 (51.2%) were aware of the minimum wage while 99 (48.8%) did not know about the minimum wage at all.

Of those who knew about the minimum wage, 55 (27.1%) understood it as pay stipulated by law, while 39 (19.2%) understood it as the lowest possible pay and 7 (3.5%) said it is the highest possible pay.

The study concluded there is significant room for improvement in spreading awareness of the minimum wage.

Sector

The study confirmed that the majority of Namibia's 72 184 domestic workers are women.

The majority of domestic workers are aged between 30 and 50, which implies that the sector remains an important employment opportunity for older women.

One of the reasons the sector attracts older women is likely because domestic work in Namibia offers a relatively low income and unstable working conditions, which discourages young Namibians from entering the sector.

It could also be argued that because of limited employment opportunities in the country, “old or middle-aged incumbents of the jobs tend to hold on to their positions for much longer”.

The fact that employers “feel that the older generation of domestic workers are more trustworthy, experienced, stable and reliable” could be another cause, the report notes.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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