Cape Town - Domestic workers may have to be paid more as the Labour Department is reviewing their minimum wage and conditions of employment.
The department is running a month-long imbizo to allow workers a say in the determination of their wage structure and conditions of employment. The domestic worker public hearings started on June 2 in Mpumalanga and are to be concluded in the Western Cape on June 29.
Western Cape spokeswoman Candice van Reenen said the department wanted to review the pay and conditions of employment for domestic workers as minimum wages had been set for three years, which would expire on November 30.
“The department also wants to check whether the stipulated conditions of employment are relevant or whether there is a need for them to be amended,” Van Reenen said.
“The department will also be reviewing minimum wage levels and the conditions of employment that are considered to be problematic.”
The department categorises domestic workers as those working in a private home, those who work for a domestic worker agency, gardeners, au pairs, those looking after sick or old people with disabilities in a private home, and a person driving for a household.
There are 652 676 domestic workers registered for Unemployment Insurance around the country, although the department estimates the number of employees to be much higher.
The minimum wage for a domestic worker in an urban area is is R1 877.70 for a 45-hour week and in a rural area, R1 618.37i.
Labour expert Michael Bagraim told the Cape Argus that in Cape Town he had determined that 90 percent of registered domestic workers were paid the correct wage.
“Most of them are black women who are unskilled and who are not in any position to negotiate,” said Bagraim.
“Government has been reasonable, fair and is not asking for too much, which has contributed to most success stories. Most madams are complying and have been paying 20 to 50 percent above the minimum wage.”
Domestic Worker and Allied Workers Union president Hester Stephens said there were 4 000 registered domestic workers in the Western Cape.
Stephens said exploitation in the domestic workers sector was prevalent, although some employers were paying a decent wage.
Although most employers followed the regulations of the department, others chose to draw up their own contracts.
“For example, the contract will state that you need to clean the pool, do gardening or sweep the driveway… a lot of things that the workers don’t agree with, or should be paid extra for, which doesn’t happen.”
Stephens said the union continued to receive reports of employers who insisted on being addressed as “Madam”, “Baas” or “Master”. Some domestic workers were made to come in at weekends just to make breakfast and lunch and were not paid overtime.
“Some complain that their employer’s dog gets better treatment than they do.”
A Muizenberg woman, who asked not to be named and who has had several domestic workers in the past 20 years, told the Cape Argus she was willing to pay more, but for a better service.
“More than half the people I know complain about inefficiency and dishonesty. I am so frustrated that sometimes I just want to cry because my house is not properly cleaned,” she said.
She pays her domestic employee R4 500 a month.
“Most require constant supervision and you get eaten out of house and home… the food is so expensive. Others waste cleaning materials… I can’t stand and watch them all day.”
The Cape Argus spoke to several domestic workers, who asked not to be named, from Observatory, Sea Point and Athlone.
Most whose duties included cleaning and babysitting were paid on average R2 500 a month, with the highest wage being R3 200.
The lowest-paid was a 62-year-old woman from Khayelitsha who worked in Sea Point and received R2 000 a month to work five days a week from 8.30am to 3.30pm. Her duties included cleaning a three-bedroomed house and taking care of a dog.
Van Reenen said the department’s Inspectorate and Enforcement Services carried out regular blitz inspections to check for compliance.