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How many can afford it?

By | July 30th 2011

Now that there's a new law that increases salary of domestic workers to Sh7, 586, looks like women may have to go the European-style of day care centres, writes MAUREEN AKINYI

As the domestic workers’ pay hike debate continues to generate controversy, both the women who employ them and house helps themselves are caught between a rock and a hard place.

For the women, if push comes to shove, because they cannot afford to cough the new sums, they will have to do away with these crucial services.

The house girls on the other hand, much as they are excited about this new move, fear that it might spell an end to their jobs because a significant number of women cannot afford it.

Recently, Labour minister John Munyes published a gazette notice that sets Sh7, 586 as the minimum wage an employer can pay a resident domestic servant in big cities like Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu.

The notice contains a raft of measures expected to drive up the cost of hiring domestic workers and shake-up the labour market to its core.

The legal notice number 64 of June 10 establishes a minimum monthly salary an employer can pay a domestic worker in every major town, compulsory weekly offs and overtime compensation.

The new law gives domestic workers a minimum wage, house allowance, sick leave, maternity leave, day offs and a maximum of eight to nine working hours.

Any employer found in breach of the new rules risks serving a jail term of three months or a fine of Sh50,000 or both.A tall order

The new rules, are set to take effect within a year, are in line with the stringent International Labour Organisation (ILO) proposals aimed at improving the working conditions for those employed in the informal economy.

But with the tough economic conditions, it looks like employing house helps will only be a preserve of the rich. Most women can only afford to pay their house girls less than Sh5,000.

If the Government decides to enforce these stringent laws, then a good number of women will be forced to operate like their counterparts in the West, who depend on day care services because employing domestic workers who come in the form of nannies is way too expensive.

In Germany, for example, employing a live-in nanny is out of the reach of most women and this explains why most career women delay motherhood.

And when they finally become mothers, some take a break from work for close to three years until the child can be enrolled in a kindergarten.

We spoke to a few women who shared their views on the new regulations gazetted by minister John Munyes recently.

Shirleen Kimutai, a mother of two who lives in Nairobi’s Donholm estate says the new directive will not work.

"Picture a mother who lives in Kibera and is running a saloon that is fetching a profit of less than Sh10,000. What happens in such a case?" she poses.

Minnie Njenga who lives in Lavington says, "I pay her Sh5,000, shop for her and she lives in my SQ, which is practically like her house. When she is sick, I allow her to go to our family doctor and every December, I give her a break to visit her parents upcountry. I give her a bonus at the end of the year and shop for her parents too. If I tabulate all this, it comes to a huge amount."Think like poor woman

"Women in Kibera slums also employ house helps and so what happens to them?" Angela Keya, a housewife asked.

But Teresia Kimathi, who lives in Kileleshwa, had an out-of-the box suggestion — for women to think like a poor mom does.

The radical mother of four says: "It is time women started operating without house helps because we cannot comply with these new rules. If you have grown up children, why don’t you teach them how to be independent? I stopped employing house helps and my children wash, clean and tidy the house themselves. Mothers are spoiling their grown up children when they employ house helps to do everything. Children in primary school are old enough to do some house chores."

But what do house helps say about these new changes:

Rose Mwikali, who is a housegirl in Nairobi’s Umoja One estate, says that the new regulations are welcome but they are not practical. Rose says she is grateful because her employer feeds, houses and caters for her Medicare whenever she is sick.

She says: "My boss is a single mother who runs a kiosk in the estate, which does not fetch much. She pays me Sh2,000 and I know she cannot afford to give me Sh7,500."

Caro Wandia who is a house girl in South B where her employer pays her Sh5,000 does not mince her words: "These women spend a lot of money on their nails, hair and clothes. Why can’t they increase our pay?"

Most women get their house helps from bureaus and others are brought from upcountry.

If the government enforces this new regulation, it looks like women will be forced to turn to day cares or quit their jobs to look after their children.

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