Whilst delivering his speech on the proposed minimum wage of R3,500 a month, Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa said that the national minimum wage was aimed at reducing income poverty and inequality. The advisory panel which was looking into the the issue proposed that wages in the domestic work sector should be set at 75% of the proposed national minimum wage. In a report released in June by The National Minimum Wage Research Initiative of the School of Economic and Business Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand, 90% of domestic workers earn less than R3,120 a month.
Patricia Mdzanga, a mother of four children has been working as a domestic worker for the past 15 years. The 51-year old works for two employers in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. One for two days and another one for three days. She speaks very fondly of her employers.
“Especially this one for three days, we are like a family. Everytime I’ve done something wrong, she would say don’t worry Patricia. She doesn’t complain about almost anything. I think I’m blessed to have worked for such a lady,” she said with a huge admiration.
“I don’t have a strict time when to knock off. Once I’m done cleaning. I’m allowed to go home. Even when I was pregnant and raising my kids as a single mother, she was there for me.”
She says she earns R250 per day and R50 out of this is given to her every day for transport. Her two-day employer gives her R200 and also R50 every day is deducted for transport. Making her combined monthly salary for two employers a little over R5,000.
However, Patricia has a concern for her three-day employer: “My boss hasn’t registered me. That’s my only worry and I don’t know how to approach her. She’s so sweet to me, maybe she is putting away some money for me but I really don’t know how to find out. I’m afraid if I do, she’ll be upset.”
Her two-day employer gives her a payslip and the only deduction reflected besides the transport is for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). No provident fund appears to be deducted.
It was her first time hearing about the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU) and promised to make an effort to contact them for advice. On the issue of the minimum wage set at R3,500 a month, Patricia doesn’t feel this is good enough but that it is at least a start as many of her peers are earning way below her.
“If it was R4,500, I would understand. Even with my current salary I can’t meet all my needs. I stay in a one-roomed house with my kids. I spend R2,000 on food and every morning I give each of my children R15 to carry to school. After paying funeral policies and stokvels, I’m left with nothing,” she said.
Another domestic worker is a 56-year old Jane Dikotla. She says she has just lost her job because her bosses said they could no longer afford to pay her. She says she has worked for them for a year, for three days a week.
Asked if she received any benefits entitled to her when she was relieved of her duties, she said there was not even a mere UIF payment.
“I don’t think I was registered because I never received a payslip. I was earning R2,700 which was deposited in my account every month,” Dikotla said.
She recalled her precarious working conditions where she would work more than eight hours non-stop and under the watchful eye of her boss. The reason for this, she said, was that her boss wanted to make sure she didn’t steal anything.
“The major problem in our work is hard working conditions and low wages. Most employers prefer foreigners over us as they believe foreigners are desperate and don’t complain a lot.”
Representing the domestic workers’ union in Johannesburg, Eunice Dhladhla said the minimum wage of R3,500, though still very little, is better that the previous R2,500 once determined by the Department of Labour.
“Many domestic workers are single parents and send money to the homelands where their kids are being taken care of,” she said.
On why some domestic workers are not aware of their union she said it is hard to approach workers at their place of work and many are scared to join for fear of being dismissed.
Myrtle Witbooi, SADSAWU’s General Secretary, added: “Currently we are excluded from COIDA [Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act]. A domestic worker cannot claim for injury at work. Also many domestic workers still earn below the minimum wage and there is a lack of labour inspectors to go around to interview and see if employers are treating the workers with respect.”