Hiring domestic help can be a bit conflicting for young black SA women - here's how to make your home a dignified working environment

Keeping tidy
Keeping tidy

Have you ever asked yourself the following questions:

Why should I hire a fellow black woman to clean up after me when I've been practically raised to be a domestic goddess for the lazy man I might one day marry?

In the same breath, why would I not employ a black woman in need of a job when I know we are the most economically repressed demographic in the country?

It's quite the moral conundrum, right?

A conundrum many black South African women struggle with when in need of an extra helping hand at home, especially with ever-increasing work demands where it's not an anomaly for a lot of us to only get home after 7pm when we can barely muster the energy to prepare a cooked meal. 

READ MORE: How to juggle work and home life

However, many have expressed that they'd rather catch up with the upkeep of their humble abodes over the weekend than hire help weekly. 

You see, the thing is that we are all raised to regard older women as sisters, aunts and mothers regardless of whether you are related by blood or not. Never as employees.

And yes, several black South African families have live-in helpers and this has been the case for decades, but there are no awkward connotations attached to that because it was always our parents who employed domestic help. 

So what happens when you're a black woman in her 20s or 30s who now falls under the "young professional" category and is just trying to adult properly?

You know how to clean up after yourself, but you really just don't have the time to go the extra mile with it.

The problem is not that young professional black women fear not being able to relate with their domestic worker, but rather the fact that a lot of us grew up doing the domestic chores around the house anyway.

Getting someone to come in once or twice a week to clean and do some of your laundry may seem like an obvious solution - this has been my solution since I moved to another city - but it’s also a solution we sometimes approach with apprehension and guilt. 

I remember when a past flatmate of mine (who is also a young, black professional woman) suggested that we get someone to come in and clean and I thought to myself, "Guurrl relax, I know how to sweep." 

Sidebar: We eventually did get a lady to come in and clean on the odd occasion.

But this was before I lived alone and became the backbone of my little household.

Anyway, perhaps the apprehension about hiring help is birthed in the historic colonially entrenched power dynamic between a domestic helper and their employer, which has always been that of 'serving' without questioning or advising.

READ MORE: Blinded by whiteness: The domestic worker uniform and why it’s still a symbol of oppression

The problem is not that young working black women fear not being able to relate with their domestic worker, but rather the fact that a lot of us grew up doing the domestic chores around the house anyway and we were never raised to tell older women (or any older person) what to do.

In fact, we get along like we would with any other women in our family, but every now and then an elephant enters the room. And this elephant is helper etiquette - how to communicate what you would like done without sounding like you're implying that someone doesn't know how to do their job.

This issue of helper etiquette is something local TV personality Bonnie Mbuli has been vocal about in the past. In 2017, she tweeted the following:

However, voicing this kind of inner conflict out can easily be misconstrued as classist "better black" sentiments. And that's not actually the case here.

It's more a matter of being cognisant of how the historical injustices in this country left a dent so irreparable in our economy that it is standard procedure for two black women of the same age to not be exposed to equal opportunities from birth.

So much so that it seems offensive to be responsible for the income of someone who is just as worthy of being your corporate colleague had their parents/guardians been able to afford an education, let alone higher education.

Another sidebar: If you work in an office setting, please don't ever forget that the cleaning staff are your colleagues too and should be treated respectfully as such.

Yes, the inner conflict is there, but what ultimately trumps it is the jarring thought of unemployment stats constantly lurking at the back of our minds, and it prompts one to do the right thing - to get help at home.

But that's not to say all is clear from that decision onward, as the second annual SweepSouth report on domestic worker pay and conditions revealed a few troubling findings from surveyed domestic workers who, according to Stats SA, make up almost 1 million members of our population.

Give the same kind of breathing room you’d expect at your own place of employment.

READ MORE: Less queuing plus 4 other life hacks that will make this your most admin-free year ever

These were with regards to legal requirements not being followed and creating a fair and dignified work environment for domestic workers.

In light of this, Aisha Pandor, the CEO of home cleaning service SweepSouth, shared the following advice in a report about ensuring fair and dignified working conditions for domestic workers: 

Ensure all legal obligations are followed

The report shows 61% of respondents to the survey said they didn't receive pay slips and 62% reported not being registered with UIF. An additional 27% said they don’t know if they are registered with UIF.

With the focus placed on changes to minimum wage in December of last year, it is understandable why some may believe adhering to these requirements is all they need to do to be in line with the law, but there is more. Registering a domestic worker you employ with UIF and providing them with payslips (monthly or weekly) are also legal requirements.

Have a compassionate leave policy

The report also found that 85% of respondents do not receive paid leave. This also contravenes legal requirements. The leave entitlement for a fully employed domestic worker is 21 days of paid leave per year. While the law does allow for negotiation about when leave may be taken, generally if a domestic worker has worked for four months, they may take a week’s leave or save it up to take all three weeks at once.

But for your home to be a dignified workplace, you should be doing more. From time to time, all of us have family responsibilities. Whether it’s a sick child or a death in the family, these things usually happen suddenly, making it difficult to ask for leave in advance. Give the same kind of breathing room you’d expect at your own place of employment. 

Have an employment contract

Of all the legal requirements employers are not following, this one is perhaps the most important. Not only is an employment contract a legal requirement, but it protects you as an employer of domestic workers as employees. The only way to clarify what each party can expect, and have to contribute to the relationship, is by having an employment contract in place.

Such contracts set out the duties, hours, place of work, wages, overtime, leave and termination of services for a clear understanding of the terms of employment. 

Where possible, help with transport

The survey found that 41% of domestic workers are spending more than R500 on transport to and from work per month. R500 may seem like a small amount to many, but when you’re earning between R2001 and R3000 (22% of respondents), between R1001 and R2000 (21% of respondents) and between R3001 and R4000 (20% of respondents), that is a large chunk of your income.

Helping out can be as simple as giving your domestic worker a lift to the nearest public transportation hub so that they can get home sooner to have quality time with their families.

Pay fairly

While the report does find that the majority of domestic workers are earning the minimum wage, the report also shows us 84% of domestic workers were the sole breadwinners in their households, with 70% being single mothers supporting, on average, three dependants.

When you consider that, a minimum wage of R2 699 per month for a domestic worker is not a living wage. This was underscored in the report when it found that average expenses for domestic workers came to R3 147 per month. 

Bearing Aisha's advice above then, it also just ultimately boils down to exercising the emotional intelligence to know that the same favourable working conditions you would like in the office are the ones your helper would also like to enjoy in your home.

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