It's shameful not to have considered bonus pay for your domestic worker

Domestic helpers provide a valuable service at huge sacrifice to their dignity and family lives. It is therefore sensible to consider paying them a 13th cheque at the end of the year, says the writer. / 123RF
Domestic helpers provide a valuable service at huge sacrifice to their dignity and family lives. It is therefore sensible to consider paying them a 13th cheque at the end of the year, says the writer. / 123RF

December, not the month but the season, seems to still catch people by surprise. Even if the surprise effect seems to be completely planned for.

If I had a penny for each time, in the past three weeks, that I have heard someone say "not in January, I won't have money", I'd be sipping champagne in first class to a destination with a white sandy beach.

Even though we know that the season is coming, most of us are still ill-prepared for the monies that are involved. The travelling back home for those of us who are in Gauteng not by choice but because our dreams can only come true here in the concrete jungle, the groceries, the "Christmas' clothes for the kids, are all part of a bill that we know and expect.

But for those of us with domestic help, there should exist another bill that ought to be prioritised, and placed right up there with your medical aid debit order.

A 13th cheque for your domestic worker, a luxury we middle-class people actually really can't afford.

We all know that it is only because we live in a country with gross socioeconomic injustices that we can afford to have domestic workers, especially with the kind of live-in situations that we have. I use the word afford here very loosely because the amount of money we pay , the going rate as it were, is actually really a pittance.

Three years ago, over lunch with a friend, I mentioned my stress over having to pay my helper a "bonus" and how I didn't know how I was going to afford it. He paused eating and gave me a puzzled look and said "but you have known about December since it was January and you know you have a helper, why would you not have prepared for it?"

At first I was really upset with him for making me feel stupid and also really selfish at not having considered and/or factored in the fact that I needed to pay my helper a bonus in December.

From that conversation, I started thinking consciously about the benefits of having a domestic helper, especially for someone like me who is not only motherless but also raising a child for the first time.

I got to thinking about what it means for the women who leave their children to watch us smother ours with kisses daily, and fret over and kiss little "einas" away.

The thought of the ache that they have to keep hidden in their bosom and only unpack, if they do, at night in the darkness, away from the madam is enough to make me avoid eye contact on many days.

When I was still employed, nothing made me quite as upset as receiving an appreciation e-mail from the bosses when all I wanted was a raise or a bonus. If you appreciate an employee, the best way to show it is with the randelas in their bank accounts.

I am in no way insinuating that any kind of money will ever be healing enough to mothers whose children grow up without mothers while ours have two, in a way.

It does, however, serve as some sort of justification when they can finally see their kids again and are able to provide them with a decent festive season, and of course there are the January school supplies that are needed.

There are horror stories about how people my age, black as I am, treat their domestic helpers from counting bread slices to making people sleep on the floor. But we are not having that conversation today.

Today is just a reminder that your three-year-old has enough clothes and doesn't understand the concept of Christmas clothes, if you need to sacrifice something so that your helper feels some appreciation.

X