Come clean: are you paying your domestic worker enough?

The more things change, the more they have a habit of staying the same. Cheap domestic labour is still as South African as braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet– though I have to say that last bit about the car has always eluded me as a particularly iconic image of this country.  Having grown up as a privileged white person during the heyday of apartheid, with a black nanny as a surrogate mother much of the time, I happen to have developed a healthy love and respect for domestic workers. They make up a large portion of the  South African workforce – more than 1.5 million people at last count. Many are still exploited and not paid anything like their worth.  They are also often treated badly, as the recent case of Cape Town domestic Gloria Kente showed. Kente, who was verbally abused and pushed around by her former employer’s boyfriend, now works for the SA Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union to help others know their rights. Here is a way to make sure you aren’t trampling on your domestic worker’s right to fair compensation. – Marika Sboros
By Paul Herman

domestic workerNews24 – A new tool created by data-gathering company Code4SA can help you determine if you are paying your domestic worker enough, given the financial realities faced by your domestic worker’s household.

Code for South Africa, a non-profit organisation created in 2013, is a company that aims to promote informed decision-making for social good through the use of data.

When it comes to South Africa’s domestic workers, many of whom are sole breadwinners, the non-profit organisation felt there was a disconnect between how homeowners set their wages, and the bare minimum needs of families on the ground.

“The issue of domestic workers’ salaries is the elephant in the room in South Africa. There are around one million domestic workers in the country and approximately one million employers,” said Code4SA director Adi Eyal.

“When employers decide to hire, they usually ask their friends and neighbours about the ‘going rate’ and then base the salary on that figure.

Fair wage

“But, even though someone is willing to work for a low figure, is it a fair wage?

“We decided that a calculator allowing the employer to make their own assumptions about the cost of living would be a useful tool.”

How does it work?

Using multiple variables which can be adjusted to your liking, the Living Wage calculator, aggregates a total monthly wage required for your domestic worker to support her household based on her family’s specific circumstances.

Some of these adjustable variables include: the number of dependants in the household; transport costs; healthcare; housing; education, and four others, all of which contribute to calculating a ‘fair wage’ for that household either per day, per week, or per month.

So for instance, in a household of three dependants, with a food budget of R27 a day per person (based on the consumer price index of 2014), and travel costs of R14 a day (based on an informal survey of domestic workers), the basic required pay for that household would come to R5 056 a month, or roughly R230 a day.

Were you to increase the number of dependants in that household from three to four, for example, the basic required pay then increases from R5 056 a month, to R6 306 a month, and so on.

‘Shocking’ results

This, as a bare minimum suggestion, is well above even the recommended minimum wage of R2 065.47 per month set by the South African Labour Department in December 2014 (for workers in a metropolitan area), a figure that does not take into account the needs specific to a given domestic worker’s life circumstances.

“Often the results are shocking. Personally, we increased our housekeeper’s salary by R800 as a result of the calculator,” Eyal continued.

“Rather than telling yet another shocking story about low wages, we wanted people to calculate their own figures and understand how well they match up against their ‘own’ assumptions.

“This calculator represents the essence of that goal and [I] hope that it contributes to fairer wage negotiations in the domestic worker sector,” added Eyal.

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