Do You Treat Your Domestic Worker Well?

Opposition leader and former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s daughter got herself in some hot soup sometime last week. Winnie Odinga in a “hit the nail on the head” kind of post, lashed out at Middle Class Kenyans, for the poor pay they give their househelps and suggested a salary of around 50,000kshs. A small section of the Facebook post from Winnie read;

Middle class Kenya needs to wake up. Every time you pay someone less than 50,000 shillings a month you are responsible for creating a home in the slum. Surprised? Or did you think 12,500 would afford your househelp a chalet in Muthaiga?
We call them Mboches (Domestic worker/househelp) in Kenyan urban slang. The ladies we usually employ in our houses to take care of our children and home affairs while we are away on job duties.
Currently in my country, more women are career oriented therefore, they cannot really skirt around the idea of whether they should employ a househelp or not. If there are children involved and mummy has to work, then definitely a househelp HAS to be employed.
An article on The Business Daily Website dated October 7th 2015 and titled Number of Kenyan super earners shrinks as income gap grows states;

Only 68,676 or 2.89 per cent of formal sector employees in Kenya earn more than Sh100,000 per month, according to newly released data, showing a widening income gap in the country. The data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that more than half of formal sector workers (64.5 per cent) are living on low wages of between Sh20,000 and Sh49,000 that have barely increased in the past 10 years, eroding the wage earners’ purchasing power.

In the Informal sector with all its unpredictability, the figures of super earners in relation to the moderate to low earners could be worse. No wonder the kind of uproar from quite a large number of Kenyans, who got the chance to give their two pence worth on what Winnie Odinga had bashfully proposed.

With such a kind of statistics showing the percentage of Kenyans who are earning between 20,000 kshs and 49,000kshs per month, it would be unfathomable for a Kenyan falling in that category, to be able to comfortably pay their househelp 50,000kshs even if they would have wanted to.

However, there was equally the argument that Winnie was referring to middle class Kenyans (whom in essence, could be earning between 50,000kshs to 80,000kshs with bills to pay and school going children). So indeed her reasoning still sounds a bit too farfetched if you choose to look at it in such a manner.

The question of how well you treat your domestic worker is a rather contentious one. Sometime last year, a Ugandan clip surfaced on the Internet, of a househelp thoroughly beating a hapless toddler who had been left in her care.

The clip elicited a lot of negative emotion and especially from mothers who can relate well with the uncertainty, of leaving a child in the care of someone, who could as well be a stranger to your family.

Househelps have been known in the past, to often times take out their frustration with their employer on the children and somehow, manage to get away with it. In this case, justice was served and the househelp jailed thanks to the secret nanny cam, that the employer had wisely thought of installing in the home.

This of course brought about the debate of whether nanny cams were indeed a viable option for employers to take. And would installing a nanny cam in the house ensure that the househelp was indeed tamed while the parents were away?

Assuming a Kenyan could indeed afford to pay their househelp 50,000kshs a month, give her a comfortable bed to sleep in, treat her with utmost respect, ensure that she ate and dressed but still installed a nanny cam somewhere in the house, without the househelp’s knowledge. Wouldn’t the househelp feel curtailed in her movements or as if her rights to freedom of being infringed if at all she found out about the installed cams watching her every move?

In another scenario, a Kenyan pays their househelp 4,500kshs. What that Kenyan can afford but still gives the househelp a bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear and treatment of the utmost respect but without any nanny cams installed. Then this househelp perhaps in a sense of ingratitude, decides to mistreat her employers kids. Would her actions be tied to the kind of treatment she received from her employer?

Now I’m not trying to imply that all employers are saints. There are indeed quite a number of employers who are actually devil incarnates. Who wouldn’t spare a thought for a domestic worker in their home. Who would gladly pay her peanuts and watch with glee while she worked to the bone day and night just to keep the home running and the kids organized. Whose husbands would prey on the hapless domestic workers in the dead of the night for despicable sexual favors. Employers who would not think twice about delaying or withholding a help’s salary.

You might be very surprised that some of the domestic workers in such homes, can actually work diligently for their employer for many years irregardless of the kind of treatment being meted out. Even more taken aback by the fact that a domestic worker, being treated well by an employer might decide to just up and go one day, without giving any notice to the employer.

The question of how well you treat your domestic worker should well be answered by the Kenyan who wants to employ one for whatever reason. It is time that Kenyans started looking at the mboch as a human being with needs such as ours. However, a Kenyan should equally be clear with the househelp during employment, on the amount of money that he/she will be in a position to pay. If the househelp is not willing to take the amount then she should equally be clear in her refusal to take the job.

Indeed regulations have been put by the government in the recent past, on what should be the minimum salary that a househelp should take home. However, just to be fair, few Kenyans can afford to pay a househelp a salary of 10,954kshs per month. Not with the kind of salaries many Kenyans are taking home in addition to the high cost of living and responsibilities to be attended to.

Winnie Odinga might have truly had a good point in her argument but I think she fell short of understanding the reality on the ground. And the reality on the ground is that only a very small number of Kenyans can afford to pay a help 50,000kshs. Equally, the treatment of a househelp is not measured by how much you choose to pay her. It is actually measured by an employer’s integrity and therefore bashing middle class Kenyans is uncalled for.






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