Domestic worker drama

2009-12-10 00:00

SINCE my little one was born almost five years ago, I have been through quite a few domestic workers. I have lost count and don’t want to count since some of them are better left erased from my memory.

Being a first-time mother and a working parent, it’s important to me to have someone to help me out at home. I am far away from the support structure I would have had, had I been in the Eastern Cape.

In my first year, I had a lovely young woman who was wonderful with my baby but she did not have children. It’s very important for me to have someone with a child, but I employed her. Everything went well until one day when I came back home unannounced and found my baby all alone in the bath, music on full blast while she was busy making herself a meal. When I asked where my child was, she told me he was in the bathroom.

My poor baby was left all alone. My stomach turns when I think that had I not come home, my child could have been either drowning in the tub or burning in hot water. She would not even have heard his screams as the music was very loud. Still, she was not fired, but after going home for the holidays she just decided to switch off her phone when it was time to come back to Cape Town. How considerate of her.

Many other helpers followed. I’ve had my clothes stolen (beats me as to how they usually pick the favourite items). I’ve had my house used as a venue for all the other domestic workers to gather while I was at work and, of course, my food formed part of the gathering. One helper would come back on Monday morning at around 9 am and I would sit there waiting for her, even though, on many occasions, I had asked her to be back on Sunday afternoon when she had a weekend out.

Are black “madams” worse?

I recently read a report in a Sunday newspaper that black “madams” are the worst when it comes to the way they treat their domestic workers. I would like to defend black employers out there who are doing their best by treating domestic workers with dignity and ubuntu. You go out of your way to make the person feel comfortable and at the end of the day, you get a slap in the face.

You want to make the domestic worker feel at home but someone once said to me that the problem starts with making the person feel at home. It’s not home, it’s a workplace. One thing we fail to do as black employers is draft a contract stipulating the rules of the house simply because we don’t want to seem too strict. Previously part of my orientation would be to ask if the person has children and if she can clean the house. That was enough for me and the person would be employed, which was a big mistake.

Now that I am looking for a domestic worker (I have ducked and dived from using this word and have always tried to use helper or aunty) to start in January, the rules are going to be clear and a contract will be drafted where clear boundaries will be set.

I might just add a uniform that she can wear during the day while working. This is unfortunately frowned upon by most black people as it seems as if one is acting like a white madam. I am taking ownership of my house. It’s about time that I rule. I trust that this will work. — Parent

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