11 excuses people give for not paying a living wage
We recently launched our Living Wage calculator, a tool that helps you decide whether you are paying your domestic worker enough. It forms part of a larger story around domestic worker wages. The response was overwhelming, mostly positive but also many negative (and downright racist). In this post I examine some common excuses that naysayers give when justifying why they pay low wages:
I pay what I can afford.
Retort: If you truly value your domestic worker but can’t afford to pay her a decent salary, employ her for fewer days per week and give her the opportunity to earn more elsewhere. At the very least consider paying for her transport to work. Transport consumes a large percentage of the wages of low income earners. Even this contribution is likely to make a big difference.
My domestic worker steals from me.
Retort: That is not an excuse to pay less. I wouldn’t employ a thief in my home. If she is truly stealing from you then replace her with an honest worker and pay her a decent wage.
I send my domestic worker home with a bag of groceries every day/month/year.
Retort: That’s fantastic but that should be considered a bonus and not in lieu of decent wages. Either incorporate those groceries as part of the contract or pay money instead of providing groceries.
My domestic worker works 4hrs and I pay her R20 / hour.
Retort: This is above the minimum wage but remember that she is unlikely to be able to work somewhere else on that day which means that you have taken up an entire day when she could have worked for more. Also, bear in mind that transport costs the same, regardless of how many hours you work. At R30 per day for transport, they are taking very little home with them.
It’s simple economics. Supply and demand or A low salary is better than no salary.
Retort: Sure. There is high unemployment in South Africa. People are willing to work for slave wages so that they can feed their families. Just because someone is willing to be exploited, does that mean that you should?
It’s not my problem that she has to feed her kids. I shouldn’t have to care about her home situation.
Retort: Of course not, but it would be in-humane to suggest that the poor should not have children.
My domestic worker stays at my home and eats our food. She is part of the family.
Retort: I am sure that your domestic worker would rather live with her own family. She stays at your home because transport is expensive and you likely expect her to work irregular hours.
I give her annual leave.
Retort: You are required by law to give 15 days paid leave. Your employer gives you leave as well.
Update 9 April 2015 - This only applies if she works more than 24 hours in a month for you. Then, by law you are required to deduct UIF, give her 1 day annual leave for every 17 days worked and 1 day sick leave for every 26 days worked. She is not entitled to 15 days annual leave….that will only apply in full time domestic employment. Thanks to Lize Coetzer for pointing this out.
Raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment
Retort: No it won’t. We are not however suggesting that the minimum wage be increased, only that you make an informed decision the next time that you haggle over R100 per month.
She doesn’t deserve it. She is lazy. Watches TV. Puts the socks in the wrong place etc.
Retort: Get someone more competent (or pay enough so that she isn’t so demoralised in her job).
My taxes provide her with free healthcare/education/etc
Retort: Only to some extent. It still costs money for a consultation at a clinic (R39 the last time I checked). Despite free education, it still costs money to buy stationery, clothing and transport to send your kids to school. Children who go to schools in poor areas generally tend do less well than children who attend school in richer areas. Your taxes, unfortuntely do not sufficiently support the poorest in our society.
It is difficult not to get emotional about the issue. An overwhelming visceral and downright racist response in the comments of a number of news websites is testimony to how much of a hot button topic this is. The calculator does not intend to tell you what you should be paying. Rather, using your own input and assumptions, it helps you calculate what you think the cost of living is. You can use this information as you see fit. At the very least, you are better informed about how much it costs to be poor in South Africa.