Cases of domestic worker abuse are reportedly on the rise in Cape Town, with recent media reports noting at least 20 such instances in the Athlone area alone.
General Secretary of the South African Domestic and Allied Workers Union, Myrtle Witbooi, said instances of abuse were an ongoing trend in the community, and she suspected much of this was a result of the Department of Labour’s decision to allow
specialized worker agencies to operate.
“The agencies collect the workers from the rural areas and bring them up to Cape Town, and then the agencies are finished with them and the workers are with the employer,” she said, indicating that such agencies were not ensuring that worker rights were being upheld during their employment.
Amongst the most common cases of abuse is that of financial exploitation, whereby many workers’ desperation for income is taken advantage of. In other cases, emotional and sometimes physical abuse are also common place. According to Witbooi, because of the desperation of these workers, many chose not to speak out in fear of losing their jobs.
She noted that within the local community, workers were often getting paid wages as low as R900 a month. She was also critical of the community’s justification for not paying domestic workers a full salary.
“It is sad. It is mostly in our own communities that we are actually starting to abuse domestic workers. At the present moment the (average) wage for domestic workers is R2150; apparently, according to our communities they cannot pay this money,” she said.
With domestic worker abuse still rife in South African society, Witbooi suggested that both employer and employee awareness need be shifted to the top of the agenda. This included educating them as to the manner in which workers should be treated, as well as what their rights were.
“We keep on complaining and saying that domestic workers are abused, but do we come up with alternative plans for these workers?” she questioned.
She added that those still reluctant to better their treatment of workers need recognize the value of the worker within their household. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)