Women Urge Minimum Wage for Domestics

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK A women’s organisation has called on the government to look into the possibility of having a minimum wage for domestic workers, as well as to look into their working conditions. So far only the farm workers and security guards have minimum wages. The Namibian Women’s Lobby last Friday organised a meeting of domestic workers to discuss the issue while also looking into the daily problems that they face. Around 30 domestic workers attended the meeting, while many others who earlier on had showed interest did not turn up for fear of reprisals from their employers. It is believed that some domestic workers earn as little as N$170 per month. Amongst their plight are that they are denied to practice their freedom of association by going to churches of their choice, they are not allowed to go and visit their children during weekends and also that they are given leftovers for food. Some of them are subjected to isolation, humiliation and sexual harassment. Although there is no legislation on minimum wage, the organisation’s coordinator, Maria Lawrence said last week it would hold consultation meetings with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to have this introduced. In her address to the workers, Lawrence said the market for domestic workers has always been a very flexible one in terms of the number of days and hours worked and that the market had no barriers to the indiscriminate firing of workers. Since estimates are that as many as 45 percent of women are employed in the sector, transformation of the industry is needed. A survey for minimum wages for domestic workers, petrol attendants, farm workers and security guards was done at the same time in 2002. The Acting Secretary General of the Namibia Farm Workers Union, which has merged with the Namibia Domestic Workers Union (NDAWU), Samson Amu-panda told New Era yesterday that it was good that the move had support from the Women’s Lobby to give it some momentum. In the absence of an employers’ council for domestic workers, the minimum wage could only be agreed upon by the Wage Commission. Amupanda said the union still has to submit the motivation for a minimum wage to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare before the parties can agree to it. Domestic workers like other workers are underpaid, with wages ranging from N$200 to N$1 200 per month. Among others, they have no benefits such as social security, medical aid, pension and other policies such as funeral policies. Lawrence said the low wages were not necessarily due to lack of productivity but rather “a function of their low economic power because there is essentially a buyer’s market for domestic labour”. Another drawback for the cause of domestic workers, according to Amupanda, has been that there is no drive from the workers themselves to have their issues resolved. He noted that very few workers contribute the union fees of N$10 a month, with some paying between N$1 and N$3 per month, which was far less than the money needed for administration purposes. “If the workers are not there what will prompt me,” he wondered. Apart from having a minimum wage, farm workers also have their own pension fund and a funeral policy, which domestic workers can benefit from once they become members of the union. Last year, when the Ministry of Labour launched the Namibian Wage Bargaining Report, Minister Alpheus !Naruseb said if employees in these low-pay sectors are to escape the poverty trap, their wages must be improved upon through the collective bargaining mechanism. Decent wages are therefore vital for the eradication of poverty and to ensure a decent standard of living for Namibia’s working class and their families. While the Namibian Labour Act makes no provision for national minimum wages, it provides guidelines for wage determination through the process of collective bargaining or through the Wage Commission.