The employment of household staff is complicated, both morally and practically, and it is sadly more common in South Africa than in other parts of the world due to the large social economic gap pervasive in the country. As a result it is likely that when you arrive you may have to make a choice about whether or not to employ staff and ultimately if you do make the choice to employ then how to do it.
I do not want this blog to get bogged down in the moral quagmire of whether you should or shouldn’t employ household staff. At the end of the day, if you can afford it then it’s a personal choice.
When I first came to South Africa I was firmly against employing full time household staff but when we arrived I found Francina working and living in our home. So the choice changed to having a member of staff or whether to make a middle-aged woman unemployed and homeless. Obviously this was the last thing in the world we could do, although she retired shortly after my first child was born!!! Very wise!!
I have been very lucky with the ladies we have employed. Each has been fantastic and we now have the most wonderful and joyful lady working with us. Nonhlanhla has been a massive blessing to my family, she brings fun and laughter to our house, loves our children, and looks after any guest like royalty.
In truth after a few years being in South Africa I now believe the moral question is not whether you choose to employ but, if you do then, how you choose to employ someone. Nelson Mandela in his inspirational book The Long Walk to Freedom wrote that
“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones”.
Similarly I firmly believe that you can judge the character of a person and a household by how happy, engaged and fairly paid the domestic worker or nanny is. Please note that the term “maid” is used often but can be considered derogatory, and the word domestic worker is used instead.
Some South Africans are amazing employers and are helping in their own homes to rewrite the wrongs of the past and today. Many South African's pay for their domestic workers children to attend the same private schools their own children go too, other pay for driving license, loans to buy property, cars, to put them through apprenticeships, there are 101 ways you can support on an individual or family basis.
At the start of employment we ask each of our staff what they would like to do and pay for training in order to upskill and ultimately let them escape us. Our first Nanny did early year’s health and safety, food preparation and crafts. Our current Nanny (the aforementioned Nonny) decided she would like to be a teacher. So each Saturday morning she attends college, and now has a job as a pre-school teacher.
Sadly there are still some who do still take advantage of the situation, who don't pay a fair wage because they can get someone else who will accept the job for a cheaper daily rate, and who exploit the staff that look after their children and homes. There are others who treat their employment as charity, expecting to be thanked, and favours to be returned for their generosity. There are also those who feel let down, betrayed or misunderstood.
Having staff in the home is a big cultural difference, but how you choose to approach the situation is the same as any other form of employment or relationship. With open lines of communication, asking yourself if you could do that role, work those hours, and for that pay. I am sure there will be lots of stories good and bad, but to help get you started here are some tips and guidance:
Things you need to know before you employ domestic staff.
The domestic worker industry has come a long way since 1994 and the end of apartheid, and it’s important to note that this is a regulated industry that will require complying with the following legislation:
- Common laws of South Africa
- Labour Relations Act
- Basic Conditions of Employment Act
- Sectorial Determination of Domestic Workers
Overall it’s important to establish clear lines of communication upfront. Note that a language barrier might be something you may need to overcome in some instances, as many domestic workers don’t speak English as their first language (common first languages are Zulu, Tswana, Pedi and Sotho).
FINDING A DOMESTIC WORKER.
The most common way of finding a domestic worker is to reach out to your network for recommendations. Sadly if you are just moving here, you may not have a network yet, so you can either wait for a while to get a personal recommendation, use a professional recruitment service. Or if you have signed up to one of our Local Assistants packages, we can help you.
Professional Recruitment Services:
Sweep South: A newly established online portal where you can book cleaning appointments online with screened domestic workers. This is includes insurance and is very affordable for ad hoc cleaning.
You can also check the noticeboards at your local supermarket, as many domestic workers (and other service providers) advertise their services there. Many people do still employ domestic workers to look after their children, but this can require a more in-depth research and interview process, which many service providers can offer.
HIV/AIDS is notoriously prevalent in South Africa, and although a highly contentious issue, it is something to be considered when employing full-time domestic help, although it is illegal to require someone to reveal their status.
Many professional recruitment services will require domestic workers to have a tuberculosis (TB) screening.
For more information on the right questions to ask request and a copy of a contract request your own personalised report. Don’t forget your local assistant can draft up a specific contract for you, and give you more detailed advice - contact them now.
When determining a wage for your domestic worker, you’ll need to consider the following:
• Hours of work
• Overtime pay
• Salary increases
• Deductions (for example, rental for a live-in space)
• Annual and sick leave
Minimum wages differs between urban (A) and non-urban areas (B), so make sure you know what you need to comply with, although in most cases (unless you live just outside of Johannesburg), you’ll need to comply with the wages set out in A. Most people will pay at least R250 per day, plus money for transport, and meals in addition. This then will be increased each annual in line with inflation.
This is a great tool if you are employing someone full time, to ensure you are covering basic costs of living. http://living-wage.co.za
This link outlines everything you need to know (including a contract template):
It’s advisable, and legally required, to have a formal employment contract set out before hiring a domestic worker full-time. See link above for a template.
Also consider that you will need to register and deduct costs like UIF from your employee’s monthly wages. UIF is the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Some people opt to deduct costs like health insurance and airtime from monthly wages, but this is not regulated and will need to be agreed to in the contract.
Be aware when hiring someone that labour law is very strict in South Africa, and if an employee feels that you have dismissed them unfairly you will taken to the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration), so make sure understand all the legal requirements and a clear contract agreement in place to avoid any potential conflict.
- Ensure that in the employment contract annual leave is clearly defined as to whether it is entitled to or on an accumulation.
- Termination of a contract should always be in writing. (It is custom when leaving South Africa to help find your domestic worker another job, and to pay anywhere between 3 months - 1 year salary as compensation.
- Sunday work needs to be agreed on by both.
- A standard agreement is that if the employee works on a Sunday he/she shall be paid double the daily wage. If the employee ordinarily works on a Sunday he/she shall be paid one and a half times the wage for every hour worked. Paid time-off in return for working on a Sunday may be agreed upon.
- Family Responsibility leave is for five (5) days.
- Having a job description is vital.
- The Sectorial Determination prohibits an employer from deducting any monies from the workers’ wages without his/her written permission.
- It is helpful to set up a cleaning schedule and lay out clear expectations as some domestic workers may be more experienced than others, and some will need some guidance as to where, how and how often to clean, and which cleaning products to use.
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