Employers shouldn't infringe the rights of domestic workers, their presence in our homes is very crucial
Housemaids are of utmost importance in many families. As many married couples are workers who tend to leave in the morning and come back at dusk, the significance of these domestic workers should not be ignored.
We’ve had of different issues that occur in household set ups that are directly or indirectly connected to househelps. Often times we are quick to blame the househelp for these problems, but there’s always another side to the story.
Experience has shown that many employers of domestic workers do not accord most of the labour law rights to employees, and research has shown that this is due to poverty.
Ashura Mohammed*, 17, a resident of Muheza District, Tanga Region, works as housemaid in Dar es-Salaam. She accuses her employer for not paying her wages for a year and three months. She was supposed to be paid Sh50, 000 per month.
“A friend of mine linked me and after two days the employer sent me bus fare. I travelled all the way from Tanga to Tegeta, Dar-es Salaam to a family of five people,” she says.
The employer had three children; the first born was in Grade Four, and the last born was two-month- old, the other members were the second born, mother and father of the children.
“I love children. That’s why it was not difficult to work for the family. I regarded the young ones as my siblings,” says Ashura.
But as months went on, Ashura was surprised that she wasn’t getting her monthly pay. After working for months, she managed to negotiate with her employer to pay her three-months salary in arrears.
She notes that her boss promised to pay her the remaining amount the moment she planned to leave for her rural home.
“I had no option but to accept her idea even though I was in dire need of cash to send back home to my mother, who depended on me to provide for her. Unfortunately my plea was not honoured,” she notes.
Ashura was told by her employer to include food and clothing expenses as part of her wage.
With no one to turn to, the helpless housemaid sought help from the public by asking neighbours to talk to her employer regarding her unpaid dues. Unfortunately Ashura’s employer remained adamant on her stance to clear outstanding wages.
After talking to her mother back in the village, Ashura made a decision to leave Dar es Salaam in search of greener pastures.
“I then told my boss I needed money because I was about to leave, she asked for more time to collect the remaining unpaid wages, this took other several months. I kept working without receiving any pay,” she says. Furaha Chaula, 20, is a housemaid who has been overwhelmed with house chores. She says she only sleeps for 5 hours a day.
“My employer does not pay me enough. He sometimes give me little cash, which cannot not cater for my needs,” Furaha says, adding, “When I came from Mtwara, we negotiated that she would pay me Sh60, 000 per month but when I started working she changed her mind. She accused me of being a bad housemaid, noting that I was divulging house secrets outside the courtyard, something which wasn’t true.”
Domestic workers agents
Housemaids wake up early in the morning and go to bed during wee hours.
According to Zakayo Ngimbudzi, a director of Ngimbudzi Investment Company (a domestic workers agency), employers should treat house maids well by paying them salaries promptly.
“Before hiring a maid, ensure that you have thoroughly gone through her background before embarking on negotiating the salary. It is risky employing a person to take care of your children while you don’t even trust them.
He noted he had established an organization which fights for housemaids’ rights.
“I have been doing this job since 1995 and the way I see it, the problem originates from both sides; employer and the employee. These girls never speak the truth because of the way they are treated. Also some employers are rude. They do not pay them on time,” he notes.
Being a maids agent, Zakayo talks of how he agency tries to deal with domestic challenges that house maids face; “For example, we write a letter to the employer to ask him to come to our office. Initially, we try to resolve the problem amicably, without going to court, so that good relations can be maintained. If that is not possible, we go further,” he explains. Zawadi Mushi,a mother of four, is of the view that housemaids need to be treated like any other family member. She says she pays her house maid Sh60, 000 and rewards her with an extra Sh20, 000 whenever she performs well, adding that, whenever her house maid gets sick she foots her medical bill.
“I always make sure that I pay her on time and ensure she signs and in case I’m in cash woes, I tell her to be patient for a few days,” says the bakery owner in Tabata.
The act of documenting pay is highly important because a claim of omission to pay can be made by the housemaid, or the employer can claim to have issued pay when reality is they didn’t.
The former scenario is what Pamela Kaheza, 36, a Dar es Salaam resident who was living with her children before her maid decided to quit faced. Upon getting a new house maid, Pamela later faced another problem when her maid claimed to not have been paid for six months, while Pamela says that she paid salary every end of the month. Such contradictions can be avoided by ensuring that upon each payment, there’s documentation to act as evidence.
Housemaids are at times forced to take extreme measures to safeguard their interests if they at all feel that they are being treated unfairly. Most of them do not know the legal recourse at their disposal when faced with an injustice.
Wages according to the law
Despite the hefty task that housemaids are expected to execute on a daily basis, employers still pay them meager wages which do not cater for most of their needs. Most families pay them Sh40, 000 to Sh70, 000 per month and sometimes they pay them without keeping record, a situation which causes conflict. But what does the law say about payment for domestic workers?
According to the Labour Institutions Act, under Regulation of Wages and Terms of Employment Order, 2010, a domestic worker is defined as any person employed wholly or partly as a cook, house servant, waiter, butler, maidservant, valet, bar attendant, groom, gardener, washman or watchman.
Conservation, Hotels, Domestic, Social Services and Consultancy
Workers (CHODAWU) education officer, Salum O. Kaumba says salaries for domestic workers are divided into three categories as per the 2013,
Government Notice (GN).183.201.
Domestic Workers employed by Diplomats and Potential businessmen; these are entitled to at least Sh150,000 per month, while those working for government officers including ministers (entitled officers) are paid at least Sh130,000.
Domestic Workers other than those employed by diplomats and potential businessmen and entitled officers who are not residing in the household of the employer are supposed to be paid Sh80,000 per month. The Government Notice states that domestic workers residing in the household of the employer are to be paid Sh40,000 monthly salary.
Mr Kaumba notes that the employers of domestic workers who live with them should also provide health coverage. He added that Domestic workers are confirmed as workers like any other and should be registered to the workers union association.
Kaumba said before employing domestic workers at your household the employer must give him/her a contract which states how much they will be paid and their working conditions including how many hours daily.
He further noted that the workers need to be provided with payslip as evidence of monthly payment or in case of lack of a payslip they should have a diary where they write each monthly payment and a signature as evidence of payment. “This helps to avoid conflict in case either of the parties is not truthful,” he said.
In case of breach of contract, the house help who is humiliated, tortured or fails to be paid is required to report at the CHODAWU offices and the same applies to the employer so as to find a solution amicably.
“There are different ways of solving the problem when it occurs starting with ward officers then (CHODAWU) but if a solution cannot be found they will be sent to the government’s commission for mediation and decision making, the high court labor unit,” he said.
Further adding, “Domestic workers should come to register at our organization. We have different domestic workers registered under us and some of them attend different seminars regarding their career.
Speaking about CHODAWU, Mr Kaumba said the organisation was registered in 1995 like any other workers organization and the aim is to defend, promote and protect the rights and interests of all sectors of the industry and consult with the government and employers. The International Labour Organization (ILO) started a campaign to safeguard the interests of domestic workers. According to ILO manual to promote ILO convention no. 189 (Domestic Workers Convention) and build domestic workers’ power, it is stated that domestic workers do not benefit from adequate legal protection in most countries, and their isolated working conditions place them among the most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.s
The manual talks of campaigns as one of the way to safeguard domestic workers’ rights. “Campaigns provide opportunities to raise awareness among public officials and the public at large, shift perceptions of domestic workers and the industry in general, and inform domestic workers and employers of their rights and responsibilities,” it states.