Domestic Workers Get Raw Deal On Holidays [analysis]

THE large number of public holidays over the past two months has cost many domestic workers critical income.

This is due either to ignorance of the law on the part of their employers or employers choosing to ignore basic labour laws.

Although domestic workers are subject to the same basic labour laws applicable to all employees, including paid public holidays, paid leave and sick leave many continue to work under unfair and illegal working conditions.

According to one part-time domestic worker, who preferred to remain anonymous, a lot of the public holidays, which fell on her normal working days during April and May, resulted in her being forced to work on alternative working days, without additional pay.

Her employers paid her for working that extra day, but not for the public holiday where she was forced to stay at home.

According to her, many domestic workers were not asked to come in on another day, when their usual working day fell on one of the seven public holidays during April and May, and were not paid for the public holidays, thus losing out on their normal weekly income.

Although several requests for interviews with domestic workers were made and anonymity guaranteed, none were brave enough to be interviewed, fearing for their jobs.

DOMESTIC LABOUR LAW

This ill-treatment of the majority of Namibia’s 70 000 domestic workers flies in the face of basic labour laws, which apply equally to all employees, whether they work in an office, a shop, in private homes or anywhere else.

Rachel Coomer of the Gender Research and Aocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) explained that: “a domestic worker is an employee in the same way as the person employing them who probably is or was an employee at some point. Therefore, when thinking about what rules to apply to a domestic worker, it is simple – the same rules that apply to themselves, also apply to their domestic workers”.

Hilma Shindondola, Director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) in 2010 described domestic workers as “the most marginalised, neglected and unvalued workforce in the country”.

This week, she said domestic workers are not faring much better four years down the line, despite much work having been done to strengthen their rights.

“It is unacceptable for any worker, including domestic workers, to have money deducted or not be paid for a public holiday. The country’s labour laws are clear on payment of public holidays.”

Shindondola said the labour law states clearly that when working on a public holiday, an employee is entitled to be paid according to the relevant labour law for holiday remuneration – namely to be paid above the usual wage on that day. They should either be paid double time for the day, or be paid at a rate of 1,5 plus the equivalent time off.

In addition, domestic workers are also entitled to annual paid leave and sick leave, in accordance with the number of days they work, plus maternity leave in line with the Labour Act.

Coomer explained that “the labour law still applies to someone who works part-time . . . when a domestic worker works for a different person each day of the week (or maybe she just works for one person one day of the week), she is still entitled to paid leave and sick leave. If a domestic worker works one day per week for five employees, she is entitled to four leave days per year from each employer, totaling 20 days leave in the same way a person who works for one employer”.

IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

Many employers have claimed, in response to queries from their domestic workers, not to know about the provisions in the labour law.

Coomer and Shindondola agree, however, that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

“Ignorance is not a reasonable excuse as employers of domestic workers should consider how they expect to be treated by their own employers and apply such principles to their domestic workers,” says Coomer.

She said “many employers of domestic workers do not take the time to think about their responsibilities as employers – they don’t perceive themselves as employers. However, with only a little effort you can find the information you need to make sure you apply the law”.

Shindondola says she does not believe that all employers are ignorant or do not know the labour law. “I think some take aantage of the fact that many workers do not know their rights and the avenues through which those rights can be claimed or exercised.”

WHY SO SCARED?

The issue of standing up for their rights is still a tricky issue in Namibia, where the rights of domestic workers are often swept under the carpet by a lack of confidence by the workers and a lack of knowledge of the avenues available to them, including their rights.

“It can be hard for domestic workers to have the confidence to stand up for their rights, as they may worry that they will be fired – even though you cannot fire someone for asking for their entitlements as per the labour law,” Coomer admitted.

Shindondola said several factors make it hard for domestic workers to stand up for their rights: lack of knowledge about their basic human and labour rights intimidation by employers fear of losing the job due to desperation and lack of alternative employment options lack of social protection lack of a g domestic workers’ union to defend the interests of its members despair and loss of hope (some have tried to seek assistance before, and it took too long or the problem was never resolved in a transparent manner).

WHERE TO FIND HELP

Shindondola said that if a problem crops up at work, she would aise domestic workers to consider one of several options: first, discuss the issue with the employer if no agreement is reached, consult the trade union if the problem is still unresolved, visit the nearest office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and report the matter or visit an organisation such as LaRRI or the LAC, and put the concern in writing for record keeping.

Coomer also aised that the most practical solution for domestic workers is to set up an employment contract at the start of employment, to clarify the terms of their employment.

(A sample contract is available on the LAC website, plus a fact sheet with applicable clauses pertaining to domestic workers).

Source : The Namibian