Durban: Martha Mhlongo, a part-time domestic worker with 10 years’ experience, has never earned more than R1 000 a month and has never been permanently employed.
Mhlongo was one of more than 500 domestic workers from Durban and surrounding areas who attended the Domestic Workers’ Imbizo hosted by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede at the Durban City Hall on Sunday.
Mhlongo works odd jobs earning R170 a day, meaning she cannot benefit from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) because she is not fully employed and not registered.
She also cannot join a labour union that could protect her from exploitation and violation of her labour rights.
Mhlongo is one of the more than 220 000 domestic workers not registered with the Department of Labour. There are more than a million domestic workers in the country.
“Domestic work was the only job available for me. It is not a stable job and pays very little. I have no choice. I have to work so that my children can eat and go to school,” she said.
Mhlongo called on the government to urgently pass laws that would force employers to adhere to labour laws.
Oliphant told domestic workers yesterday about progress made in the minimum wage discussions. She said the national minimum wage of R3500 a month would be implemented from May 1 next year.
No domestic worker would earn less than R3500 a month if they worked 40 hours a month, or R3 900 if they worked 54 hours.
But domestic workers like Mhlongo, who are not registered and only work two days a week, are worried that this law will not benefit them. They wanted to know how the government would monitor them so they would also benefit.
Concerned Sthembile Ndlovu, a part-time domestic worker in Phoenix for the past 18 years, said her employer refused to employ her full-time to avoid contributing to the UIF.
She said she earned R120 a shift, a slight increase from the R80 of two years ago.
“Employers know we are desperate and will take whatever they give us,” Ndlovu said.
Oliphant said the national minimum wage discussions about the implementation process were still under way among organised labour, business and the community. She said employers would be given two years to implement the 75% increase to reach R3 500 and R3 900 respectively.
Thembinkosi Mkhaliphi, the department’s chief director, said the national minimum wage law determined the minimum earnings for domestic workers according to the amount of hours they worked.
He urged domestic workers to make sure their employers had registered them with the UIF and to report them if they had not.
The mayor, a former domestic worker, said the current minimum wage for domestic workers in Durban was R2 400, but they were aware of many domestic workers who earned less.
She said after falling pregnant she had to find a job to support her child. “Domestic workers play an essential role looking after our homes, children and elderly when we go to work, and yet they are exploited and paid very little. Some do not have homes and are unable to be with their families because they work all the time.
“We, as the city, have committed ourselves to providing domestic workers with housing where we can and assist in furthering the education of their children,” said Gumede.
The floor was opened to domestic workers to voice their challenges. Emotions ran high as they spoke of abuse, exploitation and disrespect they claim they are subjected to daily.
Prudence Bhengu said her employer made her wash her son’s underwear, and she was assaulted by her employer’s son and accused of stealing.
Gumede said the municipality would soon launch a hotline for domestic workers to lodge their complaints against their employers.