“The Labour Laws You Talk About Don’t Work For Me” – Domestic Workers And Gardeners Speak Out

At the bottom of the working class, it is the domestic workers and gardeners who work in scorching heat and unpleasant conditions for an amount way below the national minimum wage of at least R10,23 per hour. KWAZI DLAMINI spoke to domestic workers and gardeners in Durban about workers’ rights such as the minimum wage and their daily treatment by their employers.

*Nosipho Madlala, 48, domestic worker, Ntuzuma
The biggest challenges I face in the workplace is the treatment. I face bad treatment a lot but I have come to accept it because at the end of the day my grandchildren are waiting for me to buy food for them. The labour laws you talk about don’t work for me and, to be honest, I don’t even know them. We usually get told about having rights but it is very difficult to talk about rights if you don’t have [an] education because the boss might tell you to go practise your rights at home and you’ll be left without a job. The wages, I discuss them with the employer but most of the time I’m told that you will get paid this much and I don’t contest it.

*Nokulunga Sinxadu, 27, domestic worker, Cato Crest
I work in a very comfortable environment and I’m not subjected to any sort of abuse, I think that is because I’m treated like family. I took over the job from my mother after staying at home for a few years. My mother has arthritis so I had to take over as a breadwinner at home. My mother developed a strong relationship with the employer, that is why they treat me well. I don’t think you need labour laws when you have such strong relationship with your employer because that may jeopardise the relationship. The money I receive is a fair amount because I manage to support the family with it. Even though I can’t do everything I want, it is fair.

*Solomon Nkosi, 51, gardener, Mayville
When I started as a gardener it was difficult because I did it as piece jobs for many households who needed their garden taken care of. Some people gave me food instead of paying me. In this job you get disrespected a lot but it comes with being uneducated. Labour laws are something I only read about in newspapers; it doesn’t exist in my world. The agreement is made between me and my employer. I did not even know there was a minimum wage for people like us. I would love to get more money of course but it’s not that easy. I just work, get what I get and go home as long as it will help a little.

*Sandile Dlomo, 38, gardener, Umbilo
The challenges I face in this line of work is the amount of money I earn. At the end of the month, I become happy because I get paid but it’s stressful at the same time because the money gets finished before I could do anything. Considering that I have kids back at home, it is very difficult to survive. If gardeners and domestic workers were registered employees the labour laws would help us but now we are not recognised and the unions are only fighting for the people in the mines. It’s even better for those who have agencies but sometimes they also get robbed by their agencies. I did not know that there is a minimum wage for workers, but as a gardener you can’t complain because anyone can do your job.

Sthabile Mdluli, 28, domestic worker, Folweni
The only problem I have with my job is that I hardly get free time to spend with my family. Most of the time I work five or six days a week and that is because I work for different households. I work two days a week for some households, so one day so I rotate in different homes to make enough money. The labour laws only protect those who work in the famous suburbs. As a domestic worker, you have to accept anything enough just to get by. Most of the time we negotiate with the employer the amount of money they will pay, but sometimes you don’t – you get told what you will earn. Some employers give you less money and provide you with free accommodation. I also didn’t know the minimum wage I should be getting but now I know and I can tell you what I get is not even close to it.

*Bulelwa Lukhozi, 38, domestic worker, Sydenham
I think the challenge most domestic workers face is the disrespect we get from our employers and their families. We are treated like nothing but we keep their houses clean, cook their food and wash their clothes. I remember one time when I was working for this lady she accused me of stealing a 2kg polony so they started treating me badly until I left. It was not easy to just leave because I needed the money. The labour laws cannot deal with issues like that because they are difficult to prove and most of us don’t want to talk about them because we could lose our jobs. If they could go house to house the labour laws will see that domestic workers get way less than the national minimum wage.

*Not their real names

Featured image by Nathi Ngubane