When the news that the minimum wage for domestic workers, commonly known as maids was announced it was received with a mixed sack of emotions. The labour minister Fackson Shamenda was adamant that the new wages have been revised from K250, 000 to K522, 000. Immediately, that became the hot topic in the offices and a discussion that would continue for the week to come. How on earth does a maid deserve to be paid K522, 000?
Maids have been an integral part of many households. They have helped bring up kids, doing the laundry, cooking the food, caregivers to ill relatives and some even the cleaning of the yard is an additional duty. I was rather dismayed at the harsh protest that the increment in the minimum wage ignited. I heard people say that should their maids entertain such thoughts they would be given the boot. They were already getting their monies worth. K250, 000 are you serious?
“I already feed the maid breakfast, lunch and sometimes I give her food to carry home.… Besides she watches my DSTV,” another uttered.
The debates have continued on Facebook, radio stations, television stations and pubs. The arguments generally are that maids whoever they are do not deserve a salary increment. The sad part about the arguments no matter how rational they maybe most forget the most vital part, maids are human too. It is not as if they are robots that have no feelings and emotions. It is not as if they are programmed and they do not feel the pinch of the harsh economic climate. Maids are real people just like you and I. Maids are daughters, mothers and grannies. They have the very same worries that we all have, that are to provide for our families and ensure that they are well taken care of even if it means sacrificing. It is sacrificing that they do most.
We complain when Zambians are abused in mines, we complain when the shop workers are underpaid, we strike when our employers do not increase our pay, however, we forget the injustice that goes on in our very homes. Maids have no unions to speak on their behalf. No one hears their voices and nobody asks their opinion. Let us be honest, the reasons we have maids is so our lives can be a lot easier. Maids are usually expected to work six days a week. This is usually in an average household of six people. She is expected to wash for each individual, cook the meals, if there is a baby, babysit and do all the other chores the madam does not have time for. It is not an easy thing. Personally doing my own laundry is hell and if someone can do it on my behalf that is such a relief. Incredibly people still find a way to make their job insignificant and seem like a by the way thing that we can all do without if we choose.
It is further disheartening to know that people, who earn millions of kwacha, blow up what the proposed minimum wage is in one night of fun, a pair of shoes costs that amount and yet when the increase is proposed we become tight fisted. Hence the rich will become richer and poor will remain poor. The fact that some maids may be desperate for employment does not give us the right to exploitation. Indeed that is what I choose to call it. If we allow ourselves to step aside for a moment, and critically review the salaries we give our maids. How do we expect a person who earns K250, 000 to survive for a month? This is a person who also has to feed her children, take them to school, pay for rent, and help out in the extended family. It is really difficult and hard as it is.
Therefore, I think that the minister’s announcement was welcome and long overdue. When we debate this topic, we need to avoid seeing this as an increase in the pay of maids who are from some distant planet. Let us take them as human beings, not as people who do our laundry or take care of the kids. They are people too. They are trying to make ends meet. The fact that there are many unemployed people who are desperate for jobs does not give us the right to deny them a chance to make a decent living. They may be maids but they are people too.