Do­mes­tic work­ers are not given enough recog­ni­tion

The Sunday Independent - - METRO - Mak­gabut­lane is an as­sis­tant edi­tor at The Star.

IN MOST Western so­ci­eties, only the well-heeled can af­ford to em­ploy do­mes­tic help. In this coun­try, do­mes­tic helpers are so com­mon that vir­tu­ally every house­hold in mid­dle-in­come sub­urbs and above can af­ford to hire a do­mes­tic worker. In some house­holds, they have mul­ti­ple helpers.

Many suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­als were raised by moth­ers who were em­ployed as do­mes­tic work­ers.

Such moth­ers, who are pre­dom­i­nantly black and coloured, de­vote much of their time rais­ing the chil­dren of their em­ploy­ers, see­ing their own only dur­ing week­ends or at month-ends.

How­ever, those guardian angels sac­ri­fice their mea­gre earn­ings to make sure that their chil­dren have food in their tum­mies, shoes on their feet and a roof over their heads.

With the on­set of strin­gent labour laws, which recog­nise the vi­tal role th­ese women play and the need to re­mu­ner­ate them fairly, sto­ries are in­creas­ingly emerg­ing of how they have been – and some still are – short­changed. On page 4 we fo­cus on the plight of some of th­ese women.

It is a shame that one can work so hard for so long, and still take home the pit­tance that they earn.

One woman has toiled in the “kitchens” for 25 years and still earns R3 000 a month. This is not even what many of us pay to the tax man as PAYE.

It is true that this kind of work plays an im­por­tant role in al­le­vi­at­ing un­em­ploy­ment, in a coun­try where more than a quar­ter of peo­ple are un­em­ploy­ment.

Roughly one in five South African women are do­mes­tic work­ers, and four out of five do­mes­tic work­ers work full-time (that is, more than 28 hours a week).

Per­sonal ser­vices, of which do­mes­tic work is one com­po­nent, make up 5.4% of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

How­ever, the sad re­al­ity is that do­mes­tic work­ers – due to skewed em­ployer-em­ployee power re­la­tions – are still marginalised and face the axe if they stand up for their rights. They are re­garded as dis­pens­able – and eas­ily re­place­able. With so many job­less peo­ple knock­ing at our gates every day seek­ing em­ploy­ment, I guess this is un­der­stand­able.

We salute th­ese women, who are pil­lars of our so­ci­ety.

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