A study has revealed that domestic workers suffer abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of their employers. A hotline to report abuse and an improved inspectorate by the labour department focused on domestic workers has been proposed.
The study commissioned by Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance and Hlanganisa Institute of Development in Southern Africa, was conducted in July and August with domestic workers from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
The report showed that domestic workers did not report abuse because they are too scared to lose their jobs and income. This situation worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many domestic workers were locked down at their workplaces and were unable to leave the house.
Domestic workers are often foreign migrants, frequently undocumented and working largely in isolation in the homes of employers.
One of the domestic workers interviewed told a story of how her employer’s teenage son instructed her to stop wearing underwear when she cleaned the house. “When she approached the boy’s father – her employer – he denounced her as a liar, accused her of abusing his son, and dismissed her immediately,” the report reads.
Domestic workers interviewed reported that employers saw them as vulnerable because they were poor and believed they could be manipulated.
“Some reported employers being aware that workers desperately needed their incomes. Many reported feeling powerless in the face of abuse. “Most survey respondents did not believe that the South African government had the capacity to deal with GBV in the domestic work sector.”
Hlanganisa and Izwi have recommended that the department of labour improve the monitoring of national policies geared at improving the working and living conditions of domestic workers. This included the expansion of the department of labour inspectorate for the benefit of domestic workers and other vulnerable sectors.
The organisations also recommended that the government establish call centres that can assist domestic workers as a vulnerable employment sector in dealing with GBV in the workplace.
“Without the protections available to corporate employees, and often without an employment contract, they are forced to report to either the perpetrator himself, or his wife. Workers choosing to go to the police have been accused of lying, even if a case is opened.
“No matter what avenue she reports through, she will almost inevitably lose her job. Her only choice becomes silence.”