Employing someone to look after your house, and possibly your garden too, is a common practice in Harare and Zimbabwe in general.
While employment as a domestic worker is an honest living and one of the only options for many Harare residents, working in this capacity comes with many challenges, including long working hours, poor working and living conditions, low remuneration, verbal abuse and unfair dismissal. Many things go on behind closed doors with female domestic workers being particularly vulnerable, sometimes experiencing sexual abuse from men in the households they work for. There are thousands of cases of female domestic workers falling pregnant to fathers and sons in the families they work for, which they end up getting dismissed for.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines domestic work as “work performed in or for a household or households.” This work may include tasks such as cleaning the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes, taking care of children, or elderly or sick members of a family, gardening, guarding the house, driving for the family and even taking care of household pets.
According to the ILO there are over 53 million domestic workers worldwide. While the number of domestic workers in Harare is unavailable, it is safe to say that there are thousands of people doing this work. Some are too young or too old to even be working.
Domestic workers work under different employment conditions: full-time or part-time; some work for one household, others for multiple households; some are employed directly by the householders while others are employed through agencies; some live on the property of their employers, while others have their own homes elsewhere.
One domestic worker identifying himself as Godwill said, “Domestic workers are treated like slaves. What makes it worse is the employers portray themselves as God-fearing.”
It must be reiterated then that domestic workers, like all other workers, are entitled to decent work conditions. In June 2011, ILO held its 100th session in Geneva, Switzerland where it adopted Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Convention No. 189 offers specific protection to domestic workers. It lays down basic rights and principles, and requires States to take measures with a view to making decent work a reality for domestic workers.
Zimbabwe is a signatory of Convention 189 but is still to ratify it. However in October 2011, some aspects of the Convention were enshrined in the amendment of the Labour (Domestic Workers) Employment Regulations, Chapter 28:01. These regulations set wages for domestic workers between $85 and $100 per month. A yard worker or gardener is entitled to $85 per month ($19.60 per week) and a housekeeper or cook is entitled to $100 per month ($20.79 per week). Domestic workers looking after the disabled must receive a minimum wage of $95 per month ($21.94 per week). Those domestic workers with Red Cross certificates or similar qualifications, who take care of the disabled and the aged, are paid $100 per month ($23.10 per week). Workers who do not reside with their employers are entitled to allowances of $50 for accommodation, $26 for transport, $5 for lights, $5 for fuel or cooking and $5 for water.
One employer, Mrs Matare, commented that she is unable to pay such amounts to a domestic worker from the household income, and if her maid feels she needs a pay rise she is free to look for employment elsewhere as there are many people looking for work.
The Zimbabwe Domestic & Allied Workers Union (ZDAWU) is the representative organisation for domestic workers but not all domestic workers are aware of its existence. ZDAWU’s Secretary General, Helarious Ruyi says most domestic workers receive pay way below the legally mandated wage and ZDAWU has started educational workshops to train domestic workers on their rights to ensure that they are not exploited. ZDAWU can also assist domestic workers who have legal problems.
The ZDAWU offices are at Premco Building along 2nd Street and their officials can be contacted on 775813/7.
UPDATE: ZDAWU is located at No. 88 Kaguvi Street, Harare. Tel. 04 – 753 912. Thanks to Toindepi Dhure for the new information.