Domestic wages – Let’s create tiers

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THE big debate in parliament this week revolved around minimum wages for domestic workers, which are to come into effect on April 1.

That government has reserved time to look into the plight of domestic workers, the majority of whom are women who have endured decades of exploitation is, in itself, an accomplishment.

Domestic workers provide essential services that enable others to work outside their homes. Thus these workers help keep labour markets and economies working around the globe.

They work in the homes of others for pay, providing a range of services: they sweep and clean; wash clothes and dishes; shop and cook; care for children, the elderly, and the disabled; they provide gardening, driving, and security services.

Labour Minister, Doreen Sioka, announced, last year and this week, that from April all domestic workers across the country must earn a minimum of N$1 218 per month.

In 2016, the minimum wage for domestic workers will be increased to an amount equivalent to the increase in the consumer index, plus five percent.

There are many new demands such as providing transport fare for these workers, as well as making sure that live-in domestic workers have a proper room to which they must have a key.

All these new demands are based on a research conducted by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, which apparently found that “the higher the family income, the more likely the family is to employ a domestic worker”, according to Minister Sioka’s statement in parliament this week.

We hold the view that the ministry did shoddy work of critically and objectively analysing the real situation on the ground, insofar as affordability among many Namibians is concerned.

For starters, the need for domestic workers is not dependent on the income of the family. The majority of Namibian families need domestic workers and the reasons could be because the husband and wife are going away for holidays to the Bahamas or because a mother wants someone to take care of her baby while she is on the street selling vetkoeks.

It is our submission that the need to have a domestic worker has nothing to do the income of the family, but rather with its circumstances and needs.

Security guards – whose own minimum wage has been a subject of much debate for long spells – too need domestic workers, yet they (the guards) are among the lowest paid in the country.

Many houses in Namibia – including some that are being constructed under the Mass Housing scheme – have two bedrooms only. How do we then tell owners of such matchbox houses to ensure their live-in domestic workers have a room of their own and keys to such rooms?
Sadly, as revealed by Minister Sioka this week, this law has already been gazetted and is a couple of weeks away from being effected.

Namibia is a country of many social classes, and we as a nation must take full blame for having created such classes unnecessarily. Where your children attend school and where they receive medical treatment is defined by the class you find yourself in.

How do we then create a law that compels all Namibians, the poor in Havana and the rich in Kleine Kuppe, to pay the same minimum?
Our call is for government to go back to the drawing board on this matter and come back with a more realistic law, which speaks to the realities of the economic setup of our country.

We suggest that government come up with different tiers, based on the income of each household, and set separate minimum wages for each tier. Government can then implement that revised approach and monitor its strict implementation by families falling under each of those tiers.

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