Lived realities of domestic workers within the South African labour legislative context : a qualitative study
Globally the domestic worker sector is characterised by a sense of “voicelessness”—an esoteric silence fuelled by a dire need to survive. South Africa is heralded as a global ambassador for the rights of these women. Significant sectoral reforms in recent years regulate the transactional element of this employment relationship through stipulated minimum wages and employment standards. The relational element of this engagement, however, remains underexplored. A decade of global scholarship detailing the hardships that characterise this sector has helped to uncover the plight of domestic workers. The study provided the participants with an opportunity to express their experiences and feelings, and the documented findings will hopefully stimulate more scholarly debate on this issue. It is hoped that the study will engender more sensitivity towards the needs of this vulnerable group of workers and promote positive employment relations within the South African labour market. The study describes the lived realities of domestic workers within the South African labour legislative context through five separate but interrelated journal articles. Article 1 provides a detailed “plan of action” that documents the initial considerations and rationale for the study. Guided by existing scholarly discourse, the research questions are highlighted and the proposed research design is presented. Issues related to trustworthiness are debated. This article constitutes the research proposal that was submitted during the initial phase of this research journey. Article 2 presents a transparent account of the methodological considerations that guided the co-construction of meaning within the South African domestic worker sector. Situated within the interpretivist paradigm, with phenomenology as theoretical underpinning, purposive respondent-driven self-sampling resulted in the recruitment of 20 female participants. All of them can be described as domestic workers in terms of Sectoral Determination 7. The pilot study indicated the value of using metaphors while exploring tentative topics. An interview guide facilitated the exploration of key concepts during our engagement. Rich, dense descriptive verbatim accounts of participants’ lived realities confirmed data saturation. In-depth interviews were transcribed and analysed through an inductive process of data reduction. Emanating themes confirmed that the South African domestic workers sector is far from being voiceless if we are only willing to listen. Making these voices heard constitutes a progressive step in future efforts to empower this neglected sector of the labour market. In article 3 a life-cycle approach is used to explore participants’ lived experiences of their work-life cycle. Each individual progresses through these various phases which are contextualised as a transitional process as a result of their unique circumstances and personal trajectory. Findings confirmed the existence of an institutionalised culture of engagement within the sector perpetuated from one generation to the next. Attempts to exit the sector are unsuccessful due in part to their limited formal education and skills repertoire. The article concludes with the notion that domestic workers are trapped within a never-ending cycle of sectoral engagement, and the possibility of exiting the sector remains “but a dream” for many. Article 4 focusses on the reciprocal interpersonal relatedness that often develops due to the prolonged engagement within the individualised sectoral employment context. Characterised by caring and connectedness, this mutually dignified treatment not only signals but also enhances human flourishing. Participants’ accounts of relational reciprocity are indicative of the enactment of cardinal Ubuntu principles within the employment context. The need for actions that surpass the “letter of the law” in order to enhance flourishing within the South African domestic worker sector is advocated. Article 5 explores the role that legislative awareness fulfils in the everyday lives of domestic workers. Findings indicated that empowerment was an unknown construct for all participants. The participants had little or no confidence in engaging their employers on employment issues; this was due in part to their limited legislative awareness. Domestic workers should thus take ownership of their own empowerment efforts. This will sanction their right to assert their expectations of employment standards with confidence and make use of the judicial system to bring about compliant action. The article concluded with the notion that legislative awareness can result in empowered actions though informed employee voices.