Employment, beyond a living wage

Employment, beyond a living wage

Consider yourself for a moment. Do you think your level of well-being would automatically increase if you had more money? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps you just think it would. Not many of us would pass on the opportunity to take home more money at the end of the month. Now, think back to the last time you received more money (either a bonus or a salary increase)How did you spend it? Did your overall happiness quotient increase as a direct consequence of that? It may have, for a short moment. My point is that money, or more specifically earning a living wage, isn’t the only thing that contributes to a persons quality of life. When you don’t have enough money, it makes a HUGE difference. But once your basic needs are met (as discussed here) there are many other factors that contribute to someone’s ability to reach their God-given potential. 


Consider the person who your employ in your home. Have you entered into an employment contract with them regardless of whether they are part-time or full-time? If this person works more than 24 hours a month for you, they are entitled to all the conditions laid out in the Basic Conditions of Employment (BCEA). Beyond the legal entitlement, we dignify people when we formalise their employment with a contract. A contract formalises all kinds important things like leave (of all kinds); salary increases; working hours; duties and responsibilities. It sets clear expectations alongside clear remunerations. An employment contract is something most of us are proud of. It allows us to plan ahead, and gives us peace of mind. Be encouraged, even if someone works less than 24 hours a month for you, to formalise the arrangement you have with your employee. 


It is one of our basic human needs – to know whether we are doing a good job; to hear that what we’re doing is making a difference; to know whether we’re good enough. Oprah, in an interview with the Independent online, said “everybody that I ever interviewed after every interview at some point somebody would say, ‘How was that? Was that OK? How’d I do?’ Secondly, Everyone, whether they are the janitor at NASA or the chief engineer of the spaceship, wants to feel that their work has meaning and purpose. Be encouraged to set clear expectations and then to give feedback to your domestic employee. Thank them every time they come to work. Tell them how much their help around your house/property means to you and how it affects your life. A simple thank you will go a long way. 


How much do you know about the person employed in your home? Do you know what they are passionate about, their dream job perhaps, or when they hope to retire? Get invested personally. Everyone has dreams for themselves and their families. If you want to make a difference in their life, find out what their dreams are and offer to walk alongside them as they pursue them. You never know, you may be able to open a door for them or connect them in some way that is meaningful. Sharing your privilege is really easy and costs you nothing. Perhaps their dream or goal is wild and completely “blue sky” like changing careers but it may be a simple dream like getting a driving license, or learning a new skill. You can only be open to being used by God once you know what the need/hope/dream is.  


Assuming you’ve already done the work involved with paying them a living wage (see this article if you haven’t), there are a few other ways we can really set up our domestic employees to thrive. Have you researched the various medical aids available only for domestic employees? Would you consider paying the monthly contributions for this as an added benefit? What about Life policies, unit trusts, and retirement funds? Assuming the person working for you is not employed full time, have you considered advocating to their other employers to join forces in splitting the costs of these additional benefits? It may take some of your time to negotiate and liaise, but it probably wont cost you a lot. Imagine the security and peace of mind your employee would have if they knew they didn’t have to queue for a whole day to go to a government clinic, or that when they retire after a lifetime of serving other people, they may be able to stop working and still be able to cover their basic expenses. That, is real dignity.   


Finally, and I’ve mentioned this a little already – share your privilege. As a white woman in South Africa, with a very supportive family and network of friends, I know I have an extraordinary amount of privilege. There’s nothing I can do about it, except, perhaps, to share it. I’ve realised it’s not only my desire but it is my responsibility, as a Christ-follower, to share it. How do I do that you ask? In my life, I have advocated for increases in salaries for both my domestic employee who works part time for me and two other families as well as the groundsman in my housing complex. I have given the one person who works for me directly an employment contract. If requested, I share their information and desire for more work with my social networks, vouching for and advocating for them. But, I think what they would say is most important, is that I am interested in their lives. I care about them and their families and I show an interest. I know what’s going on with them. But that’s just my story. 

How can you share your privilege with those you employ? How can you be part of their journey to discovering life beyond their basic needs, and hopefully, one day, reaching their God-given potential. 

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