Why Namibia is increasing the wage of its 24,000 domestic workers

Domestic workers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment, they work in the homes of others for pay, providing a range of services; sweeping, cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking, caring for children, the elderly, and the disabled, and are often underpaid but Namibia hopes to change this with its 11% increase of minimum wage for domestic workers in the country.

Currently there are at least 67 million domestic workers worldwide, not including child domestic workers and this number is increasing steadily in developed and developing countries. Namibia for instance has over 24,100 domestic workers; 20,000 are women while 4,100 are men. These domestic workers account for 6.3% of the total workforce.

Some domestic workers live on the premises of their employer, others work part time while working for multiple employers majorly without clear terms of employment, they are unregistered in any book, and are usually excluded from the scope of labour legislation. According to the International Labour Office (ILO), “tens of millions” of domestic workers provide essential services that enable others to work outside their homes.

In Namibia, the previous minimum wage was 1353.20 per month, N$312.30 per week, N$62.45 per day, N$7.80 per hour but with this 11% increase, the new monthly wage for domestic workers will be N$1,502.05 monthly, N$346.89 weekly and daily rates will be N$69.37, hourly wage will be N$8.67 effective from October 1st.  In addition, part-time domestic workers will now be guaranteed a minimum payment of wages equivalent to five working hours in a day.

After Namibia gained its independence in 1990, constructive developments which has affected domestic work in Namibia took place. The advent of Namibian constitution, fundamental worker rights were protected as well as prohibition of race and sex discrimination.

The protections for workers contained in the new Constitution were made more concrete by a new Labour Act which was enacted in 1992. This new legislation, which was the product of tripartite consultations between government, employers and employees, placed domestic workers and farm workers on an equal footing with other workers for the first time. This Act, legislates certain basic minimum standards of employment, introduces the concept of ‘unfair dismissal’ into the law and provides a framework for industrial relations.

Although the Labour Act was enacted in 1992, is was not until 2012 that Wages Commission for Domestic Workers was established and the first minimum wage for domestic workers came into effect in April 2015 after a 2-year review.

Like some other African countries, domestic workers and their employees in Namibia will be required to register with the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation by no later than November 30 in the country.

This increase in minimum wage aims at creating a better welfare plan for domestic workers and with the new registration policy, employers and domestic employees can both be held accountable and perhaps domestic work would no longer be considered informal work. A permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja acknowledged.

“It is acknowledged that the minimum wage for domestic workers does not constitute a living wage that will ensure a decent standard of living for domestic workers and their families. It is a bare minimum. Employers and employees alike are therefore urged to understand that the Wage Order is a step towards decent work in this sector and toward the goal of establishing a guaranteed living wage in the longer-term”.

Vulnerable workers, especially domestic workers, are traditionally subjected to exploitative practices, such as extended working hours with neither lunch breaks nor rest periods, unpaid annual and sick leave, non-registration with relevant authorities, such as Social Security Commission and sometimes work without written contracts Shinguadja added.

Although this minimum wage increase might be encouraging for a few domestic workers, it is however still on the low and has not addressed the challenges of domestic workers exploitation. it was largely frowned at when a similar situation happened in 2015 in the country.

According to the coordinator, Namibia Domestic and Allied Workers Union (NDAWU), Lizette Hanes, many domestic workers lost their jobs because of the proposed minimum wage. “We demanded a N$2 000 minimum wage, which will mean N$100 per day and N$500 per week but now we got N$56 per day and N$1 218 per month,”

Hanes said there were domestic workers who earned good salaries as much as N$2 000 or even N$3 000 but with the minimum wage, employers no longer require their services when they can take advantage and employ someone whom they can pay the new minimum wage.

The new monthly N$1,502.05 and hourly rates were decided upon after the consideration of social factors, combined with the 2016 annual inflation rates on food, non-alcoholic beverages, housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels, which are considered as the most pertinent to domestic workers said Shinguadja.

Frieda Naris, a national executive committee member of the Namibian Domestic and Allied Workers’ Union (NDAWU) said while wages remain low they are happy with the increase. However this increase has not addressed the issue of domestic worker exploitation.

Also published on Medium.