Namibia: Pregnant Domestic Workers Face Hardship

Lack of maternity leave rights, sexual harassment, safety and lack of employment contracts continue to haunt domestic workers, according to a report of a study set to be released next month.

The study by the Labour Resource and Research Institute Namibia (LaRRI), was conducted to explore the impact of the minimum wage system on Namibian domestic workers.

The report compiled after interviews with 267 domestic workers, is titled "An evaluation of the Namibian domestic work minimum wage order implementation: perspectives and experiences of the social partners on the challenges, opportunities and future strategic direction,"

The report was compiled to document the experiences of the government, domestic workers and employers on implementing the minimum wage regulations introduced in 2017.

Government regulations stipulate that domestic workers should be paid N$1 502 per month or N$346 per week; N$69 per day; N$8,6 per hour; and N$43 per day for part-time work lasting five hours.

According to the report, a large number of pregnant domestic workers do not enjoy full maternity rights because they do not get enough time off.

Even after giving birth, they are still expected to return to work within a short time, the study by the labour regulations think-tank said.

"For fear of losing income and in the absence of registration with the Social Security Commission, most domestic workers do not enjoy full maternity benefits nor do they spend enough time with their babies once they are born as the employers often threaten to replace them with the next available worker," the report added.

The study said domestic work is an important source of employment for women, which according to the 2018 Namibia Statistics Agency labour survey, they make 51 744 of the country's 72 000 domestic workers.

Another issue highlighted in the report is sexual harassment.

Even though there is no evidence of the incidences, the report said, "it is difficult, but it has to be addressed to prevent more women in domestic work suffering in silence".

"Some of the female leaders of the domestic workers' unions have been victims themselves. It is time they face the monster head-on because there is no force greater than a determined collective," the study added.

The report also stated that health and safety has to be at the core of the domestic workers' trade unions.

It added that: "It is essential that unions make it a point that employers address safety and health issues."

The study also explained that 77% of domestic workers have not signed contracts with their employers.

"A significant number of the domestic workers still do not have a written employment contracts. This makes it difficult for the workers to claim their rights fully".

LaRRI executive director Michael Akuupa told The Namibian this week that the country's labour laws oblige an employer to sign a contract with a concerned employee.

He emphasised the importance of contracts because they can be used to hold the parties involved accountable.

"Not having a signed contract can cause dangers of mistreatment, and the unfair dismissals of employees. The employer or worker may also elope from responsibilities," Akuupa added.

Deputy secretary general of the Namibia Domestic and Allied Workers Union (Ndawu), Delphia Suxus, explained to The Namibian that the fault often lies with employers because when workers ask for contracts, they often do not comply.

"According to our research, workers ask for contracts, but the employers usually do not comply. In some, cases the union informs the employers about the contract of employment," Suxus said.

The study also sought to find out if domestic workers have any recommendations to make toward the improvement of the current minimum wage.

The first recommendation was promoting the creation of the Domestic Employers Forum so that proper tripartite structures between the government, employers and trade unions are created for the domestic work sector.

"Engaging employers in a formally recognised avenue can also help both sides to better understand each other's needs and concerns which can lead to a more practical strategy to ensure greater recognition and protection for domestic workers," it stated.

Promoting the establishment of a formal tripartite mechanism to formalise the hiring of domestic workers was also noted. The report said: "This ensures that minimum hiring and firing procedures are followed in accordance with the national labour laws".

It also stated that Ndawu should encourage the government to establish recruitment centres for domestic workers, which are places where professional recruitment of domestic workers takes place. According to LaRRI, the 2018 Namibia Statistics Agency said domestic work is the fourth largest employer in Namibia with more than 72 100 workers - which is 10% of the employed labour force.

The 2018 labour force survey shows that almost 30 000 more people joined the domestic work sector between 2013 and 2018 as the figure estimated for 2012 was just above 40 000, LaRRI said.

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