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Employers who mistreat househelps risk heavy fine

You risk a three-year term in prison and a fine of up to Sh500,000 for mistreating and abusing your househelp if new proposals to protect domestic workers are enacted into law.

A new Bill proposes a two-year term behind bars and a similar fine for those who withhold the wages of a domestic employee for whatever reason.

The Domestic Workers Bill, now before the National Assembly’s Budget and Appropriation Committee, if endorsed by the House and enacted into law, will spell drastic changes in the domestic work environment as far as employee and employer relations are concerned.

The Bill, a brainchild of Taita Taveta County Women MP Ms Joyce Lay, proposes rights and privileges of domestic workers, providing among others that an employer or any member of a household shall not subject a domestic worker to slavery, servitude, forced labour or any actions that may degrade their dignity.

If enacted into law as it is, employers will also be expected to provide basic needs to their domestic workers, and this will include at least three meals a day of acceptable quality, a humane sleeping arrangement, and a healthy and safe working environment.

TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT

And where an employer wishes to punish or take disciplinary action on their househelp, the Bill stipulates that such shall not include withholding any of the basic needs above.

The Bill is comprehensive and attempts to capture some of the major concerns in domestic employment, especially with regard to obligations of the employer.

Domestic workers will have an opportunity to complain to a Directorate of Domestic Workers which is proposed to set labour standards for domestic workers and provide for their protection from abuse, harassment and economic exploitation.

The agency will also register domestic workers and employers and co-ordinate and monitor their work.

Under the proposed law, prior to employment, an employer will be required to provide a domestic worker with a written contract of service detailing the terms of engagement.

A domestic worker, on the other hand, will be required to provide their prospective employer with a medical certificate or a health certificate before entering into an employment contract as well as a duly certified copy of birth certificate or any other document showing their age.

MODEL CONTRACT

They will also be required to provide a letter from the local chief, detailing the personal integrity and suitability of the domestic worker.

If enacted into law, the Department of Labour will develop a model employment contract for domestic workers which shall be available and free of charge, to domestic workers, employers, employment agencies and the general public.

Ms Lay, the proposer of the Bill, said she was driven by her concern that many women and children in the country were being exploited as domestic workers and with no rights or rules to fall back on.

According to the MP, many had become contemporary slaves, suffering in the hands of cruel employers and being subjected to harsh and unfavourable working conditions.

“It is a known fact that the same women and children are trafficked and exploited by the employment agencies which operate without any form of restrictions and regulations,” she said.