IN the beginning, 19-year-old Miriam Shoko, a housemaid by profession, was receiving a steady income, with two years of hard work to her credit, but that is no longer the case.
For the past year, Shoko said her employer has not paid her a dime, claiming she has been experiencing financial challenges.
Lydia Gwande, Shoko’s employer and a 46-year-old teacher, said her income had become too sparse for her to keep paying her housemaid.
Currently, teachers employed by the government earn about $200 monthly.
From that same amount, Gwande, who lives in Rujeko high-density suburb in Masvingo, said she pays $100 for a three-room apartment.
Paying a $50 monthly wage to her housemaid has become a mountainous task as teachers’ wages are eroded before receiving them.
Her husband, 53-year-old Maynard Gwande, who used to be a transport operator owning commuter omnibuses in Masvingo, fell out of business last year after the government banned privately-owned taxis from operating during the coronavirus pandemic unless they joined the Zupco franchise.
Paid with food
Shoko said her employer has resorted to feeding her like her children.
She said food alone is not enough for her to look after her four-year-old baby.
“It was good for the first two years when I started to work here, with my employer making sure she was giving me my wage soon after getting her own salary. But now things have changed, and for a year now, I haven’t been paid,” she told Anadolu Agency.
As many housemaids suffer due to non-payment of their wages, maids and landscape technicians are also grappling with poor working conditions.
“I don’t know if the government has said anything about what I should earn. What I can tell you right now is I haven’t been paid for a year. I don’t know if that is because my employer’s husband lost his business due to coronavirus restrictions on his transport business,” said Shoko.
“You know for a fact that since last year, the government banned commuter omnibuses and taxis owned by the private sector from operating to curb the spread of COVID-19. Life is more precious than business,” an official at the Information ministry told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
Domestic workers overworked
Shoko said despite not getting paid, her rights have been trampled on.
However, Gwande said since the ban on private taxis life has never been the same as she now struggles to pay wages for her maid.
“I also earn very little and with my husband out of business, I can’t afford to shoulder the role of paying our maid from my little wage,” Gwande told Anadolu Agency.
Zimbabwe’s normal working hours are eight hours daily, often from Monday to Friday, with most workers taking a break on weekends.
Zimbabwe’s landscape technicians, also known as “garden boys,” such as 26-year-old Mendisi Siziba based in Masvingo, also have to contend with labour injustice.
“My employer gives me US$30 each month, saying that it is enough, as I stay at his house free of charge, receiving food from him. It’s unfair,” said Siziba.
“I work every day with no rest. Even on weekends.”
Middlemen unaware of workers’ plight
Agents for domestic workers — like Hapton Murowe, who is based in Harare — seem unaware of the plight of domestic workers.
“I get jobs for domestic workers and I get paid for facilitating their employment. What I know is that those that I get jobs for are very happy with their wages,” said Murowe.
The government last year set the wages for domestic workers at 900 Zimbabwean dollars ($10) monthly.
For many, like Shoko and Siziba, that is a non-starter.
To surmount the plight of domestic workers, trade unionists have called for raising of wages earned by houseworkers.
“The Tripartite Negotiating Forum should come up with a minimum wage that matches the total consumption poverty level to eliminate exploitation,” Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, told Anadolu Agency.
As domestic workers continue to suffer, their plight has shaken even other union leaders, like Peter Mutasa, the head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
“This is a group of workers suffering in silence and abandoned by the government. The majority can’t even afford bus fares to and from their workplaces.
Many don’t have medical insurance or any form of social security,” Mutasa said.
COVID-19 compounds domestic workers’ plight
The pandemic has worsened the plight of domestic workers, according to their union leaders.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to domestic workers, changing the duties of many domestic workers, who are now taking care of COVID-19-positive employers, with the same employers not providing their employees with PPEs (personal protective equipment),” Hilarious Ruyi, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Domestic and Allied Workers Union said.
According to Ruyi, some domestic workers are not allowed to visit their friends or relatives for fear of spreading the disease to their workplaces, but employers visit their friends and relatives as they wish.
As such, according to union leaders, government has a responsibility to protect domestic workers, but it has abandoned them completely.— Anadolu Agency