Decent accommodation for live-in domestic workers mandatory

Home Business Decent accommodation for live-in domestic workers mandatory

By Edgar Brandt

WINDHOEK – Domestic workers who live at their place of employment should be provided with accommodation facilities that meet certain minimum standards. The specific minimum accommodation standards for a live-in domestic workers should be a lockable room with a key provided to the employee, a bed and mattress, good ventilation, adequate lighting, access to water and free electricity and heating, if such is the prevailing condition in the home.

These are the new incentives recommended by the Wages Commission, in addition to the monthly minimum wage of N$1 218 announced in December 2014. The minimum wage will come into effect on April 1, 2015, and will be enforced as an official Wage Order given by the Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Doreen Sioka. The approved recommendations further state that domestic workers must be provided with “appropriate and effective personal protective equipment free of charge” and that the employee may be visited by relatives and friends at reasonable intervals or hours in consultation with the home owner. Also, HIV and pregnancy testing for domestic workers should be voluntary.

These recommendations culminated in the announcement of N$1 218 per month for domestic workers that will be subject to an increase equivalent to the consumer price index plus five percent, as of April 1, 2016.

The approval by Cabinet also allows domestic workers to be members of a trade union and “access to the employer’s home for various union-related purposes should not be unreasonably denied…,” read the recommendations. Furthermore, every domestic worker must be provided with a standard written employment contract in English, which shall be part of the Wage Order. This contract should be explained in a language that the employee understands.

“The individual wages and terms of conditions of employment shall be agreed upon by the employer and the domestic workers, provided that they shall not be less favourable than those contained in the Wage Order. Both parties must retain copies of the contract for the duration of the employment,” explained Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Alpheus Muheua.

“I want to emphasize that the main purpose of the minimum wage is to begin a process of achieving decent work for domestic workers and to enable them to eventually emerge from poverty wages. The minimum wage can also reduce income inequality. We cannot say today that we have achieved a living wage to enable domestic workers to enjoy a decent standard of living. This is a beginning,” said Muheua. The ministry says the minimum wage can contribute to the health, education and well-being of the families of domestic workers, especially their children.

Muheua added that the minimum wage will also increase the buying power of domestic workers and therefore may have spin-off benefits for businesses and traders in their communities.

The deputy minister also responded to some critics who oppose the minimum wage by arguing that its introduction would inevitably result in job losses. Muheua pointed out that domestic workers are the first to complain about low wages and are the first advocates for better wages and better conditions. “The vast majority of households employing a domestic worker in Namibia only employ one domestic worker. It is expected that families that employ one domestic worker only are unlikely to retrench the domestic worker and to opt to do the domestic work themselves,” said Muheua.

He noted that research in South Africa, which has had a minimum wage for domestic workers since 2002, indicates that loss of jobs did not occur as a result of the introduction of a minimum wage but admitted that in some instances there was a reduction in the number of hours worked.