Domestic workers sexually abused, paid less than law requires - survey

Househelp

A house help performing her chores.

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Domestic workers have exposed their employers as people who disregard the government’s minimum wage stipulations, overwork and insult their workers and sometimes sexually abuse them.

The workers opened up to SweepSouth, a platform that connects workers and employers in need of services like cleaning and taking care of children and the elderly. A summary of their responses is included in a report to be released today.

Forty-two per cent of Kenyan domestic workers who took part in the survey said they had faced verbal abuse. Some 15 per cent had been subjected to physical abuse, and 16 per cent had faced sexual abuse.

They were also asked to reveal what they earn, including tips they receive. It did not compare well with the set minimum wage.

A December 2018 directive from the Labour ministry said a domestic worker in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu should earn at least Sh13,573 a month.

Domestic workers in the former municipalities and town councils of Mavoko, Ruiru and Limuru should earn at least Sh12,523 a month, while elsewhere in Kenya they should be paid a minimum of Sh7,240 a month.

The average minimum wage in the three location-based government categories stands at Sh11,112.

From the responses SweepSouth received, the median pay for domestic workers was Sh8,522.

“Kenya enforces a minimum wage for domestic workers but the respondents in our survey reported average earnings below this threshold, suggesting that better enforcement is needed,” says the report, Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Workers Across Africa.

The report recommends that existing legislation be enforced, advising the government to consider giving incentives to employers who abide by its wage stipulations.

“Governments should look at a set of incentives for compliance, such as tax incentives and easy sign-up stations at locations easily accessible to domestic workers and their employers,” it states.

“Work in private homes is difficult to regulate; so we encourage the development of more creative solutions.”

Given that the average monthly expenditure of a typical domestic worker in Kenya was calculated at Sh10,731, it emerged that most of them are in debt.

Sixty-four per cent of the Kenyan respondents said they owe someone. Some 55 per cent said they don’t make enough to be able to save.

The survey was conducted in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria between May 4 and 25 this year. The past three SweepSouth surveys have focused on South Africa and this is the first time Kenya and Nigeria were included.

Questions were sent to the workers using SMS and WhatsApp. SweepSouth says 600 Kenyan domestic workers were contacted. Ninety of them gave their responses, 31 per cent of them being male. Ninety-five per cent of the Kenyan respondents said their primary role includes cleaning.

The median age of a domestic worker in South Africa was 39 while in Kenya it was 29 and 32 in Nigeria.

The survey gauged the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives of domestic workers, finding that in Kenya and Nigeria, about two in five domestic workers lost their jobs due to the pandemic. South Africa reported one in five in that score.

“We continue to see job losses and economic hardship for domestic workers and even though some encouraging signs are evident in this year’s report, the general outlook is still grim,” SweepSouth says in its conclusion.

“As we enter the third wave, the protracted vaccine rollout and the threat of subsequent waves later in the year, there is still much cause for worry. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

The report concludes by advising employers on what they can do to improve their workers’ conditions, urging them to pay their workers a living wage. It also urges more consideration.

“Ensure you are treating your domestic worker in the same way you would like to be treated. Be sensitive to not just their physical health needs but their mental health needs as well,” it says.

SweepSouth also encourages employers to give food items as gifts to their domestic workers.

“Buying food is more expensive for your domestic worker than it is for you. So where you can, if buying the bulk pack is just a little more expensive, get extra and share it with your domestic worker. It will go a long way to easing the cost burden on their family,” the company advises.

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