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Overdue but badly timed

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Paying domestic workers a living wage goes a long way towards the economic emancipation of the families they come from

Domestic workers do all the chores - cleaning, ironing, and taking care of children, the elderly and pets - yet they are often taken for granted, underpaid and given food hardly fit for consumption.

ON MAY 1 next year the national minimum wage for domestic workers is expected to come into effect.

This means any employer who pays their domestic worker less than R3500 a month for working 40-hour weeks would be in contravention of the law.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant told hundreds of domestic workers at the Durban City Hall on Sunday that those who failed to comply with the law by underpaying their domestics must be reported to the authorities.

She also warned employers who failed to register their employees for the Unemployment Insurance and Compensation Fund.

According to the new legislation, those who work a 45-hour week should be paid R3900 a month.

Domestic workers are the most exploited workers in the country who often have to put up with abuse and poor working conditions. Their low level of education coupled with the absence of union representation makes them vulnerable to bad employment practices by unscrupulous bosses.

Paying domestic workers a living wage goes a long way towards the economic emancipation of the families they come from. Scores of individuals who occupy high-profile positions were educated by their mothers or grandmothers who earned meagre salaries as domestics. Can you imagine what can be achieved if they were paid a living wage? The government has to be commended for regulating the sector.

However, the introduction of the national minimum wage is not without its challenges. It is true that there are many employers who pay their workers above the minimum wage. It is also true that many people who employ domestics are not rich and will struggle to pay the stipulated salaries. This might have unintended consequences where some employers will be forced to let go of their employees or risk breaking the law. As a country in a technical recession we cannot afford to shed more jobs and plunge more families into poverty.

Statistics SA’s poverty and inequality report released last week made for chilling reading. The study revealed that 13.8million people were living in extreme poverty in 2015 and below the food poverty line of R17.48 a person a day.

The implementation of a minimum wage might produce unintended consequences. While the policy is a noble idea, the timing of its implementation is not ideal.