MORE than wishing the Wages Commission for Domestic Workers, which starts with its work on Monday, the best in its endea-vours and mission, one would rather wish to beg, implore and encourage it to reach out to the public practically. As much as one would wish to entice the public in general, and all the relevant stakeholders, to render it all the necessary help and cooperation crucial to it fruitfully fulfilling its mandate.
The Commission, which is under the able stewardship of the former Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Libertina Amathila, has been mandated to recommend to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, minimum wages for domestic assistants.
It is to so advise after gaining the necessary input from the public, and other stakeholders, either through public hearings and/or submissions in this regard.
The true state of remuneration of this section of our society is little known if known at all. But it is no secret or any wonder that its wages are among wages for starvation in the country, a situation that may have been inherited from the colonial period. Not much seems to have been done about the starvation wages save for the Labour Act, which generally provides for the rights of workers including their rights to organise themselves in workers’ representative organisations at the workplace.
As a result, this has continued to be one of the classes within Namibian society that has no pretence at egalitarianism, that has continued to be at the sharper end of the continued exploitation and the humiliating treatment this section of the working class has continued to suffer.
Generally in Namibia, the situation of some section of the working class continues to be pitiful in the least, if not humiliating and criminally heinous at best. This, as has been revealed in the media time and time again through a litany of complaints, is not confined to the domestic sector but even in reputable companies, both private and public, the situation has in the least been deplorable. To a large extent these unbearable conditions continue. And this does not pertain to ordinary workers only but even to a class of workers one may describe as professionals within these institutions. And those that seem to be perpetuate these heinous crimes of exploitation, as well as inhuman treatment and trampling upon fellow human beings, who are supposed to be fellow colleagues, are those higher up in these institutions who should be in the better if not best know of what Namibian laws provide for in terms of the rights and conditions of employment of these staff members or workers.
Yet many a time such staff members and workers find themselves victims to their fellows. Now if this is happening in some re-putable organisations, and against those one may have deemed to know their rights, what cannot be happening to domestic assistants, who most of the times are at the mercy of their employers? Employers in whose eyes these workers are no more than personal possessions with no rights and freedoms, let alone human dignity?
Worse, the situation at the domestic level seems to be worsened by the fact that most of these people do not have any unionised representation. Because how does one actually unionise someone who is virtually a personal possession of someone, and who very much for her/his survival rather than livelihood, relies on this personal employer? That is why the important mandate of the Amathila Commission cannot be underestimated and downplayed. It is tasked with the mandate of ultimately ensuring that a section of the Namibian society are shepherded and guided into the mainstream of Namibian livelihood and do not remain on its fringes as is currently the case.
That is why the public must take a keen active interest in the Amathila Commission, if only by helping those who may have been finding themselves victims of unscrupulous home employers, to reach out to this Commission to speak for self and make their case. But most crucial, the Commission must make sure that their hearings reach the ears of those who matter most, the domestic workers. And that they are afforded, especially by their employees, not only the freedom to attend its hearings and make their cases, but that they do this without any fear, and they do this with the necessary ease.
This predisposes that the hearings of the Commission are not only publicized well in advance and continuously – but they must be able to entice those affected so that they are not only attracted to them but see and understand their essence.
So the Commission’s role in this regard is not simply invitational but educative, consciousness raising, especially among the affected sections or class of workers, about the essence of its mission and hearing if such are to be meaningful, as opposed to meaningless full houses of the hearings.