Domestic Workers Fight Against Gender-Based Violence

By Okeri Ngutjinazo

LOWEST paid and vulnerable to gender-based violence, the voices of the domestic workers who clean the households of wealthy families need to be heard.

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Last week, domestic workers celebrated international domestic workers day, which was held under the theme “Support International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention C189 to Stop Gender-based Violence – Equal Rights, Respect & Justice for Domestic Workers”.

This convention was adopted in 2011, and calls upon ILO member states, of which Namibia is one, to take concrete steps to end discrimination against and the abuse of domestic workers, and to implement measures to upgrade their terms and conditions of employment.

The general secretary of the Namibian Domestic and Allied Workers Union (Ndawu), Nellie Kahua, said in a statement that domestic workers are in not so secure, low-paid and low-status jobs and positions, a status which also contributes to the problem of gender-based violence.

“The domestic workers are afraid to lose their source of income, and are increasingly reluctant to denounce acts of violence at their workplace. This further perpetuates intolerable situations of violence at work,” she stressed.

Kahua added that the workers face many grievances in their workplaces, such as being hired without a written contract, being physically abused, while others work with little or no payment and the violation of general workers’ rights.

The labour ministry last year announced a new mandatory minimum wage for domestic workers, which was valid from 1 October.

The new salary for domestic workers increased from N$1 353,20 to N$1 502,05 a month.

The Namibian spoke to some domestic workers on Saturday, who explained some of the problems that they face in their profession.

Magdalena Swartbooi (42) has been a domestic worker for 12 years. She was physically abused by her employer, where she worked for nearly 13 years, after she asked for a payslip to sign up for a study policy for her son who is in Grade 10.

Her employer said “what kind of salary payment are you asking for? Domestic workers never have salary payslips.”

Swartbooi narrated that her employer furthermore poked her in the chest, adding that, out of respect, she could not retaliate.

“I cannot beat my boss back; I must respect her,” she said

She then reported the issue to the labour ministry, but said she then received help from the union which fought for her rights.

“I am a domestic worker, and I don’t want my children to end up being domestic workers or gardeners. Even if my salary is little, I want to save money for my child’s future,” she stated.

Swartbooi added that due to their low pay, they don’t qualify for loans at banking institutions.

Another domestic worker, Magdalena Job, who has worked for 10 years, said her previous employers would expect her to come to work without giving her food, and expect her to work from 08h00 until 15h00. She once even worked for a month without a salary.

Job said she left that house due to drug abuse, and her employer also said she could no longer pay her.

She said besides the cleaning that they do, domestic workers are also advisers, nurses and psychologists for their employers.

The other workers chimed in, saying that they are even expected to play with the employers’ house pets.

Swartbooi said she was expected to clean up dog faeces before she could come into the house.

On the other hand, Theresia Vlees, a domestic worker at Mariental, said she is fortunate as she doesn’t face any hardships from her employer. She has been with the same employer for 13 years.

“There are very few employers who are kind,” she noted.

Vlees said her employer didn’t mind that she joined a union, and allowed her time off to attend workshops hosted by Ndawu. The domestic workers also handed over a petition to the ministry of labour last Friday, asking the government to ratify the convention.

Permanent secretary in the labour ministry, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja told The Namibian this week that to ratify a labour convention, that instrument has to be tabled before a tripartite labour advisory council (LAC ) for consideration and debate.

“If the LAC is satisfied that the convention is within Namibian laws, hence can be easily applied in Namibia, then it recommends it to the minister responsible for labour. After that, the minister submits the convention to Cabinet for consideration and approval or rejection,” he explained.

If approved, the minister tables it in parliament, and after approval, the minister responsible for foreign affairs prepares the instruments of ratification that have to be deposited with the ILO director general, who will inform the UN secretary general.


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