.

Working Conditions and Wages of Informal Sector Workers in Domestic Service in Zambia By Grayson Koyi

1. Introduction

The domestic work sector in Zambia is largely informal but important in its own right given its contribution to employment in the labour market. The 2014 Labour Force Survey shows that about 347,031 informal sector workers were employed in private households in Zambia. Thus, domestic workers employed in private households currently make up around 6.3 percent of the labour force in Zambia (Labour Force Survey, 2014). However, domestic work tends to be among the lowest paid in the Zambian labour market, earning about one-fifth of the national average wage[1]. The small scale nature of private individual household employers makes the sector difficult and costly for unions to effectively organise. The fall back for the majority of domestic workers has been a minimum wage of K520 (about US$53) introduced through the Minimum Wages (Domestic Workers) Order Act of 2011.

Using secondary data and the Wage Indicator Foundation Database, this brief paper highlights wages and working conditions for domestic workers in Zambia in order to inform and intensify policy debates on conditions of work and union organising of domestic workers in Zambia.

The paper is organised into four sections. The first section has introduced a rationale of the paper. The second provides the socio-economic context and legal framework for domestic work in Zambia. The third section highlights wages and working conditions of work for domestic workers in Zambia. Section four provides a conclusion and recommendations drawn from the paper’s discussion. 

2. Context and Legal Framework

Socio-economic context

Zambia is a landlocked republic situated in south-central Africa, with a surface area of 752,612 square kilometres. The 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (LCMS) results show that the population of Zambia was estimated at 15.5 million in 2015. The population is mainly concentrated in rural areas at 58.2 percent compared to 41.8 percent in urban areas. In the period 2005-2015, the economy grew at an annual average of about 7.5 per cent, largely due to the copper price boom (World Development Indictors, 2016). This growth rate was marginally above the Sub - Saharan average of 5 per cent, resulting in an economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at market prices (constant 2010 USD) of USD26.2 billion in 2015. Economic growth outlook remains strong as the economy is projected to grow at 7.5 per cent per year up to 2017 (World Bank, 2015). However, despite decent economic growth, poverty remains the greatest challenge to national development.  The proportion of the population living below the poverty line was 54.4 per cent in 2015. Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon with poverty levels at 76.6 percent compared to 23.4 percent in urban areas (Living Conditions Monitoring Survey 2015).

In terms of employment, 944,200 people were working in the formal sector in 2014, representing 16.1 percent of the total employment. The informal sector had 4,915,026 workers. Of the employed persons in the formal sector, 71.3 percent were male and 28.6 percent were female. The most predominant occupation in the formal sector is service and sales work accounting for 26.1 percent followed by professional work accounting for 21.7 percent. In the informal sector, the most predominant occupation is skilled agriculture, forestry and fisheries work accounting for 69.4 percent. The education industry has the highest percentage share of 15.9 percent in the formal sector while real estate industry accounts for the lowest percentage share of 0.2 percent. In the informal sector, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry accounts for the highest percentage share of 72.1 percent. The private businesses or farms account for the highest percentage share of 57.3 percent followed by the Central Government with 27.5 percent in the formal sector. In the informal sector, the private businesses or farms accounted for 92.3 percent while private households accounted for 7.5 percent (Labour Force Survey, 2014:57)

Legal framework

Legislation governing the rights and obligations of employers and employees in Zambia is mainly contained in the Industrial and Labour Relations Act, Chapter 269 of the Laws of Zambia. The Act provides for the conduct of industrial relations, the recognition and administration of workers and employers’ organisations and the registration and administration of dispute settlement and consultative machinery. Legislation governing employment contracts and procedures and conditions of work are mainly contained in the Employment Act, Chapter 268 of the Laws of Zambia. The Minimum Wages and Conditions of Employment Act, Chapter 276 of the Laws of Zambia applies to the domestic work sector in Zambia, particularly in those areas which are outside the scope of collective bargaining or where trade unions do not exist or technically where the bargaining unit fails to agree on a particular issue. Under this Act, the Minister of Labour is empowered to make regulations and orders with respect to minimum wages and conditions of work.

However, laws require enforcement to ensure compliance. This is where the challenge begins with application to the domestic work sector in Zambia. The Employment Act, Chapter 268, Section 2, states that a labour officer has the power to carry out the inspection of any conveyance or workplace where he/she may suspect people are being recruited, provided that they are not private dwellings. The caveat provided they are not private dwelling, however, explains why the government finds it difficult to enforce minimum wage legislation for domestic workers. In the Employment Act, Chapter 276, Section 3 the minister of labour has the power to announce or amend the minimum wages or conditions of employment for any category of worker on the condition that this group is not represented by a trade union. This is what happened in 2011 when the minister introduced the Minimum Wages (Domestic Workers) Order that prescribed a legal minimum wage for domestic workers, among other conditions of work. At law, employers that fail to comply with the minimum wage and conditions of employment order commit an offence and are liable upon conviction to a jail sentence not exceeding six months. However, while this order is relevant for all employers and employees, labour inspectors have no legal mandate to enter private households and inspect compliance with domestic workers’ legal guarantees. This omission could be among the reasons for non-compliance.

3. Wages and Working Conditions

3.1 Domestic workers’ wages versus living wages in Zambia

The statutory minimum wage for domestic workers in Zambia is K520 per month (US$53). A worker whose duty is beyond a three kilometre radius from the place of work is also entitled to be paid a monthly transport allowance of K102. 40 (U$10.5) for transport expenses, unless the employer provides transportation. The Wage Indicator Foundation Database reports a living wage of US$357.60 for the highest paid (skilled) employee in Zambia and US$126.28 for the lowest paid (unskilled) employee (Table 1).

Table 1: Wages in Domestic Work Sector in Zambia Versus Living Wages, 2017

Work Category

Minimum Wage

Living wage[2]

(national level)

Ratio

ZMW

US$

ZMW

US$

 

Domestic worker

520

53

1237.6

126.28

2.4

Source: Minimum Wages and Conditions of Employment (Domestic Workers) Order 2011; Wage Foundation Indicators (2016).

Comparing the living wage for the unskilled employee with the wage earned by a domestic worker in Zambia (Table 1), it can be seen that the living wage (US$126.28) for the unskilled worker category is 2.4 times higher than the domestic workers’ statutory minimum wage (US$ 53). Further, in 2014, the national average monthly income for paid employees, interns and apprentices was K2, 344. Males received an average monthly income of K2, 427 while females received K2, 129. Rural areas recorded an average monthly income of K2, 173 while urban areas had an average monthly income of K2, 405 (Labour Force Survey, 2014). Domestic workers guaranteed minimum wage, however, has been static at K520 since January 2012 which is at about one-fifth of the current national average monthly income of K2, 344. A case can, therefore, be made for regular update of the minimum wage for domestic workers on the basis of some rationale criteria or cost of living index. The static nature of the minimum wage since 2012 has left domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation and to the ravages of the rising cost of rising. 

3.2 General Conditions of Employment

The legally prescribed working conditions for domestic workers in Zambia are summarised in Table 2.

Table 2: Legally Prescribed Working Conditions in Domestic Work Sector in Zambia

 

Working condition

Legal provision

Comment

1

Hours of work

8hr/day or 48 hour/ week is prescribed by law

Despite being prescribed the number of hours to work, many employers require domestic workers to report for work as early as 0600 hours and leave only after they return from work or evening functions.

Overtime

11/2 x hourly rate

Rarely paid. Most domestic workers not aware of such entitlements

Annual leave

Entitled to two days/month

Not being adhered to in most cases. Most domestic workers are not even aware that they are entitled to two leave days per month or a full month per year

Pain sick leave

Paid sick leave of up to one month

Not being adhered to in most cases. For domestic workers recruited through maid centres, such domestic workers are usually replaced when they fall sick as part of the contract of service with employers

5

Transport allowance

 K102.40 for workers residing beyond 3km radius from place of work

Not usually paid. But, remains too low and not reflective of the ever rising cost of commuter fares in most urban cities in Zambia

6

Protective clothing

Workers entitled to protective clothing

Some employers provide while most do not.

7

Severance benefits

One month’s basic pay for every two years completed

The separation package put in place in the Act is seen by most domestic workers as grossly unfair considering many were paid low wages. The Act stipulates that a domestic worker will be paid one months’ pay for every completed two years served upon separation. But according to the workers, the nature of exploitation on the market result in many domestic workers not being able to retain a job for long enough periods and that the one month for each two years served meant very few would ever qualify for this package.

8

Maternity leave

120 calendar days after every two years. Not paid leave.

Maternity leave provision not being respected as almost all employers immediately dismissed a pregnant worker. The Domestic Workers Recruitment Centres also tolerated this by replacing the pregnant worker as part of the contract of service with employers. Additionally, most domestic workers feel it was unfair for the government to have put in a clause on maternity leave while on the other hand making it unpaid leave, as it would be practically impossible for a worker to survive on maternity leave without any pay

Under the relevant law for domestic workers, a day has 8 working hours and a 48-hour week. Employees who work longer than 48 hours a week are entitled to overtime. The recurrent complaint among several domestic workers, however, is that they are not given adequate overtime for weeks in which they work more than 48 hours. Workers also report not being paid overtime at all (Decision for Life Workshop Report, 2012).

On annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave, stated clauses in the minimum wages act for domestic workers proclaim commitment to one month of annual leave, paid sick leave for up to one month and 120 calendar days for maternity leave every after two years for female workers. However, the reality is that these are hardly adhered to. Maternity leave provisions, for instance, are not being respected as almost all employers immediately dismiss a pregnant worker. The Domestic Workers Recruitment Centres also tolerate this by replacing the pregnant worker as part of the contract of service with employers. Additionally, most domestic workers feel it was unfair for the government to have put in a clause on maternity leave while on the other hand making it unpaid leave, as it would be practically impossible for a worker to survive on maternity leave without any pay.

In terms of the separation package put in place in the Act, this is seen by most domestic workers as grossly unfair considering many were paid low wages. The Act stipulates that a domestic worker will be paid one months’ pay for every completed two years served upon separation. But according to the workers, the nature of exploitation on the market result in many domestic workers not being able to retain a job for long enough periods and that the one month for each two years served meant very few would ever qualify for this package.

4. Conclusion and recommendations

The paper reaches a conclusion that the current wages for domestic workers in the Zambian labour market are insufficient to cover the minimum requirement for decent living. This is demonstrated by a gap that exists between the minimum wage for domestic workers prescribed by law and the living wage. The general conditions of employment prescribed in the minimum wages act, even though on paper appear generally compliant with international labour standards and practice, they exhibit significant gaps in implementation and workers experience that counter the well-meant intentions. Non-payment of overtimes, job-insecurities that undermine the eligibility criteria for the separation package, gender discrimination in relation to maternity leave provisions are cases in point. Addressing the challenge of wages and working conditions for decent living for domestic workers in Zambia requires, at the very minimum, a three - pronged approach.

1. Timely revision of  minimum wages for domestic workers

First, policy makers must ensure timely revision of legally prescribed minimum wages to protect workers against erosion of their purchasing power through the rising cost of living and inflationary pressures, and;

2. Using CBAs as tools for advancing the living wage agenda

Second, trade unions must act to use collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) as a tool for addressing the quest for a living wage through social dialogue. As such, collective agreements should contain, as a standard requirement, key elements of the living wage agenda. These should include;

  • House, transport and meal allowances;
  • Health insurance, reproductive rights (including maternity/paternity leave, child care) and occupational health and safety;
  • Better pay, working hours and social protection.

These elements must provide a useful starting point for a gradual attainment of the living wage agenda. As a safeguard, the duration of CBAs should not exceed two years to guard against the inflationary effects on the purchasing power of wages and conditions of work secured through collective bargaining. Such collective agreements can then be a benchmark for revision of minimum wages in the domestic work sector.

3. Placing the issue of labour inspection in private households at the centre of the minimum wages implementation agenda for domestic workers in Zambia

The discussion on the legal framework for minimum wages for domestic workers leaves no doubt that compliance is a big problem and that this matter must be placed at the centre of the labour inspection agenda, and not outside of it as is the existing situation.

References

ILO (2010): Minimum Wages and Collective Bargaining: Towards Policy Coherence. ILO: Geneva

Labour Force Survey (2014): The Labour Force Survey 2015 Report. CSO: Lusaka

Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (2015): Living Conditions Monitoring Survey 2015. CSO: Lusaka.

Rubinow, I. M., “The problem of domestic service,” Journal of Political Economy, 1906, 14: 8, 502 – 519.

Wage Indicator Foundation as in http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/actemp/downloads/publications/srscbarg.pdf

Wage indicator database as in http://wageindicator-collective-agreements-database.silk.co/


[1] In 2014, the national average monthly income for paid employees, interns and apprentices was K2, 344. Males received an average monthly income of K2, 427 while females received K2, 129. Rural areas recorded an average monthly income of K2, 173 while urban areas had an average monthly income of K2, 405 (Labour Force survey, 2014). Domestic worker guaranteed minimum wage has been static at K520 since January 2012.

[2] Based on Wage Foundation Indicator Database.