Domestic work a necessary and professional service

Domestic work a necessary and professional service says the writer.
Domestic work a necessary and professional service says the writer.
Image: 123RF/rawpixel

The domestic work industry in South Africa has long been fraught with issues around pay and proper legal protection.

There is a dire need to professionalise it to ensure fair pay for workers, as well as set rules and regulations for both employees and employers. There are too many informal employment scenarios, with no contracts in place.

Statutory payments into the UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) are not made, and many employers are not adhering to the law. In extreme cases, there is exploitation and even abuse of workers.

Much of this comes down to a lack of education. It is essential that both employers and employees learn, and understand, their rights. And, by the same token, both sides must also understand their obligations.

SweepSouth connects homeowners seeking domestic services to independent domestic service providers, giving opportunities to unemployed or underemployed cleaners.

Additionally, our platform enables us to collect data with which we can drive education. Our work is also about conscientising people to the daily reality lived by domestic workers.

In a typical scenario, where someone works in your home for a full day, you come back from work as your domestic worker is leaving. You've both had a long day. There is little time to consider their life prior to coming to, and leaving your home.

Many domestic workers are mothers and caregivers who wake up early to get kids ready for school before travelling an hour or two on public transport (which may or may not be working).

Then, after getting home they are faced with helping with homework, cooking, doing washing and cleaning their own home.

Little has been done in terms of large-scale efforts to further empower and skill domestic workers so that they have access to opportunities beyond cleaning homes and offices.

The majority of domestic workers (over 83%, according to a recent SweepSouth survey) are single breadwinners. It is undeniable that this labour force forms a key part of the economy.

Providing such opportunities increases the amount of people who are paid, which reduces dependencies on social grants, and increases the amount of people who are part of the active labour force, a crucial factor in helping to drive employment.

While actively working is a first step, we believe in giving domestic workers opportunities to earn more and become better skilled.

With a workforce of more than a million people, upskilling even a fraction would have a massively positive effect on their families and society and the economy.

Furthermore, professionalising the industry will not only give cleaners dignity and pride in knowing they are recognised as professional service providers, but also to be paid decent and fair wages.

It helps to set standards around the value of the type of work.

To start, we need a higher minimum wage, and more flexible models which allow domestic workers t to work with multiple households if necessary to make a decent wage, or to spend some time studying or upskilling themselves without being penalised.

There is no reason we can't make the changes to ensure equal rights for all workers.

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