Domestic Workers against deductions

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By Meluse Kapatamoyo

For most employees, deductions from one’s wages are clearly explained in their pay-slips. But for most domestic workers such deductions are at the discretion of the employer and when they do come they are verbal.

On January 2011, the Zambian government announced a Minimum Wages and Conditions of Employment Act, Cap 276 of the laws of Zambia stipulating a wage of K250, 000 for domestic workers.

However, while the new wages have been received with cheer, domestic workers feel that government should have gone a step further and introduced measures that would protect their wages from unfair and unnecessary deductions by their employers.

MyWage Zambia spoke to Elizabeth Malama, a domestic worker whose verbal contract with her employer says she earns a monthly salary of K350, 000.

According to the new law, the Minimum Wages for all domestic workers have been pegged at K250, 000. How do you feel, and is it sufficient? 

Elizabeth: For the first time we (domestic workers) feel appreciated. We now know someone somewhere is looking out for our interests. Most of us, my friends, are paid below K200, 000 which is just rent money. For food, we turn to “Kaloba” (money lenders who demand huge interest rate returns). So the K250, 000 is like a salary increase to most people. We hope our employers take it seriously.

You said you earn K350, 000 per month, which is above the minimum wage. Are you happy with your salary?

Elizabeth: I should be but I am not. When I started work eight months ago, I was promised K350, 000 by my employer and that is what I received the first two months. But later she started making all kinds of deductions and almost each month, I get less and less.

These deductions, is this money you borrow from your employer?

Elizabeth: No, I try to never borrow from her unless am in real need. Last month she deducted K65, 000 from my salary saying I had stained her son’s brand new designer T-shirt. This was after I had just finished paying for a kettle which I was accused of having damaged. On both occasions there was no proof that I had damaged both items since six people live in that house. I have paid for glasses, and spoons that have gone missing or broken.

What do you think should be done in such cases where an employer makes the employee pay for damaged or missing items?

Elizabeth: We all make mistakes. Jobs are difficult to find in Zambia and there is no way I would damage or steal items that belong to my boss. If I was an employer I would certainly give one or two warnings, and then fire that person if I am convinced they are guilty. But I am not even given a chance to defend myself. If she is sure that I am not a good employee, she should just fire me. 

How have these deductions affected your way of life?

Elizabeth: I started renting a two-roomed electrified house at K120, 000 when I started work, but had to move back into a one roomed place with no electricity because I am never sure how much I will get each particular month. Between rentals, school fees, food, communal water utility bills and making sure my two children look decent, I have no extra money left. That is why for me it is unfair that employers can make deductions to our salaries at will. Government should have included this in the law.

The law defines a domestic worker as a person; who takes care of a child, an aged person, a sick person, a frail person or a person with a disability within a household. Gardeners and those paid to do household chores are also classified as domestic workers.

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Find out more about Decent Work and Labour Laws in Zambia.


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