Recession hits home

2009-09-09 00:00

ABOUT 38 000 domestic workers, gardeners, nannies and other people employed in private households across KZN lost their jobs between April and June this year, as KZN’s middle classes cut their household budgets drastically during the recession.

Adding fuel to the fire, the SA Domestic Services and Allied Workers’ Union (Sadsawu) in KZN has accused employers of flouting the law and failing to adequately compensate retrenched domestic workers.

The statistics confirm that the economic downturn has finally come knocking on the doors of the occupants of middle-class households in Pietermaritzburg and Durban, including many who would have previously resisted such budget cuts.

“Some employers even give them household goods instead of ‘paying’ them cash when they retrench them,” Eric Goba, an official at Pine­town-based Sadsawu, told The Witness.

Goba said employers often exploit workers, adding that this group of the population is particularly vulnerable as they are often illiterate and relatively poor.

“[Domestic] workers usually have few benefits. Employers often take advantage of the fact that workers are illiterate and alone. It’s easier to dismiss one person [a domestic worker in a household] than to dismiss a whole group of employees in a company,” Goba said.

The province has been rocked by widespread retrenchments and short-time measures at local companies this year.

About 245 000 people are employed in private households across the province, mainly domestic workers and gardeners.

This figure is significantly down from the 283 000 in the first quarter of 2009.

Burdened by retrenchments, short-time and persistently high inflation, local households have cut spending on domestic workers and other “frills” during the recession.

Goba said the situation for domestics is bleak, with lay-offs becoming an increasingly common occurrence.

He said lay-offs will have a devastating effect on them and their many dependents.

“In many cases they are the sole breadwinners in the family.”

The owner of KZN-based Rent-A-Maid, John Murphy, who has a branch in Pietermaritzburg, told The Witness that frequency levels, defined by the number of days per week that people request the services of domestics, have dropped about 20%.

He said they have experienced a decline in sales levels over the past year.

Overall, KZN shed a further 57 000 jobs in the second quarter of 2009, after losing 117 000 during the first quarter of this year.

According to Pietermaritzburg-based economist Clive Coetzee, the expanded definition of unemployment — which includes discouraged job seekers — now sits at a whopping 34% in KZN.

A worrying social trend has emerged during the recession.

Coetzee said more people are giving up on looking for work, according to the latest statistics.

Discouraged work seekers in KZN shot up 168% year on year from 183 000 in 2008 (second quarter) to 448 000 in the second quarter of 2009.

“Hopefully they’re temporarily discouraged. The question is, what are they doing with their time? Furthermore, the longer you remain unemployed, the harder it is to find work and these people then rely more on state hand-outs,” he said.

Employment in the “community and social services” sector during the second quarter of 2009 also suffered as a result of the recession, dropping from 490 000 to 465 000.

Similarly, the agriculture sector in KZN employed 31 000 fewer people at the end of June 2009.

Termination: The rights of domestic workers

CERTAIN procedures must be followed when either an employer or worker wishes to terminate employment. There are special rules governing the employment of domestic workers:

Notice of Termination: Notice must be given in writing, except when it is given to an illiterate worker.

Notice Period for a worker: Employed for

a) six months or less: one week.

b) more than six months: four weeks

An employer and worker may agree to a longer notice period.

Notice of termination may not be given during any period of leave entitled to a worker, except sick leave.

Pay Instead of Notice:

Employers may decide to waive the notice period, but the worker must still be paid for the notice period.

Payment on Termination

On termination of employment the employer must pay a worker all moneys due to theworker:

• wages

• allowance or other payments

• paid time off

Accommodation on Termination

If an employer terminates the contract of employment before a date on which the employer is entitled to, they are required to provide:

•one month’s accommodation until the contract is lawfully terminated

Severance Pay

Retrenched workers (dismissed due to employer’s operational requirements or insolvency) are entitled to one week’s severance pay for every year of service.

Certificate of Service

On termination of employment, workers are entitled to a certificate of service.

Unfair Dismissal

Workers who feel they have been unfairly dismissed should contact the CCMA.

— Supplied (Labour Department)

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